Rocket Man

‘The Elon Musk of China’ aims to lead his space­craft busi­ness onto the in­ter­na­tional stage

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhang Dan

“When I saw the arc of the rocket fir­ing, I felt it was so beau­ti­ful yet so tran­sient. I was think­ing, now that I have taken my first step, I must build larger rock­ets and launch them even fur­ther into outer space,” said Shu Chang, founder and CEO of One Space, China’s first pri­vate tech­nol­ogy com­pany man­u­fac­tur­ing car­rier rock­ets and other space­craft.

On May 17, the 32-year-old man suc­cess­fully launched a solid-fuel rocket named OS-X from a launch­ing base in North­west China, the first-ever rocket re­searched and de­vel­oped by a pri­vate com­pany in China.

Re­fused by dozens of aerospace spe­cial­ists and in­vestors when first start­ing up his busi­ness three years ago, Shu founded the com­pany from scratch.

“Some of them [aerospace spe­cial­ists and in­vestors] had re­ally deep con­ver­sa­tions with me, but ul­ti­mately said no on the day of sign­ing the con­tract,” Shu said.

Talk­ing about his mo­ti­va­tion to start up a pri­vate rocket-mak­ing com­pany, Shu told the Global Times that there is a pol­icy in China’s space in­dus­try which pro­poses com­bin­ing the de­vel­op­ment of both the govern­ment-led na­tional team and pri­vate com­mer­cial com­pa­nies.

“Even if 95 per­cent of peo­ple ques­tion me, there must be 5 per­cent of like-minded peo­ple who will re­spond once I take the lead,” Shu said.

En­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit

While study­ing air­craft de­sign at Bei­hang Univer­sity in 2006, Shu was in­spired to start a small busi­ness that was to­tally un­re­lated to his ma­jor – food de­liv­ery.

For some stu­dents hail­ing from south­ern China who were re­luc­tant to go out­side for meals dur­ing Beijing’s cold win­ters, there was a need for food de­liv­ery. y. Shu is grate­ful for this s brief ex­pe­ri­ence, as it tested his ca­pa­bil­ity to find demand demand, which he thinks is the most im­por­tant qual­ity of be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, Shu worked at China Aerospace Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Cor­po­ra­tion, which earned him vi­tal in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence. His mas­ter’s de­gree in fi­nance at Pek­ing Univer­sity helped him ac­cu­mu­late con­nec­tions with tal­ents and in­vestors.

Af­ter the Chi­nese govern­ment be­gan to en­cour­age pri­vate en­ter­prises to en­ter China’s satel­lite mar­ket in 2014, Shu saw it as his op­por­tu­nity to start a rocket busi­ness.

“I grad­u­ated from Bei­hang Univer­sity [ for a bach­e­lor’s de­gree], which has so many aerospace grad­u­ates. But for a coun­try like China, there was no pri­vate rocket com­pany. It was at that point that I had a strong sense of mis­sion,” Shu once told ifeng.com.

“I asked my­self, why not me? The most es­sen­tial things to start a busi­ness are cap­i­tal and tal­ents,” Shu said, con­fi­dent that he had ac­cess to both re­sources.

Start­ing with a small team of six, which later grew to 20, and then over 140 em­ploy­ees, Shu suc­ceeded in un­der three years in man­u­fac­tur­ing and launch­ing a rocket. How­ever, the first step is al­ways the hard­est.

Elim­i­nat­ing doubts

Dur­ing the first three months of pre­par­ing One Space, Shu suf­fered from plenty of stress.

“Dozens of peo­ple and in­vestors turned me down and even laughed at me. I didn’t know where to go af­ter get­ting up ev­ery morn­ing; it was a sta­tus of ex­treme lone­li­ness,” he re­called, ex­plain­ing that many peo­ple thought he h was a mad­man or a char­la­tan.

Af­ter con­duct­ing tho thor­ough re­search and ex­plo ex­plo­ration of the in­dus­try, his s small team proved it was fea­si­ble for pri­vate com­pa­nies to pro­duce and launch rock­ets from China. Their clear logic en­ticed other pro­fes­sion­als in the in­dus­try to join them.

Most Chi­nese aerospace ex­perts, how­ever, did not want to give up their jobs at State-owned in­sti­tu­tions be­cause their “iron rice bowl” po­si­tions guar­an­tee their jobs for life. To­day, how­ever, many see it dif­fer­ently and hope to join Shu’s team.

“More en­gi­neers want to join us now be­cause they see dif­fer­ent ways of do­ing things in our com­pany, as op­posed to State-owned ones, and rec­og­nize our cor­po­rate cul­ture,” he said.

Shu thinks China has the soil for in­no­va­tion but it is cur­rently not in a good con­di­tion be­cause “the pri­or­ity of State-owned in­sti­tu­tions is to as­sure suc­cess.” But pri­vate com­pa­nies like One Space al­low for mis­takes.

“How can we avoid mis­takes when we are in­no­vat­ing? Like a kid who is learn­ing how to walk and run, how can he or she avoid tum­bling?” Shu added.

Thus far hav­ing raised 500 mil­lion yuan ($78 mil­lion) in seed fi­nanc­ing, One Space will fo­cus on batch pro­duc­tion in the next few years to pro­duce 30 M-se­ries rock­ets by 2020.

“If we com­pare SpaceX to a col­lege stu­dent, to­day’s One Space is just a pupil,” Shu told the Global Times when asked about be­ing called “the Elon Musk of China” by ne­ti­zens, re­fer­ring to the self-taught South African-born bil­lion­aire who ar­chi­tected the Tesla e-car as well as SpaceX, a pri­vate Amer­i­can aerospace man­u­fac­turer and space trans­porta­tion ser­vices com­pany.

Shu added that SpaceX fo­cuses on heavy space­crafts for medium and high or­bit, while One Space’s M-se­ries rock­ets, which will be launched later this year, tar­get com­mer­cial mi­crosatel­lite com­pa­nies that need rock­ets un­der 500 kilo­grams.

More­over, the price of the M-se­ries is half of the global mar­ket price ($5 mil­lion), which makes it far more af­ford­able for pri­vate busi­nesses.

Go­ing in­ter­na­tional

One Space’s busi­ness has ex­panded rapidly into many coun­tries around the world, in­clud­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties with Ger­many’s OHB, Italy’s D-Or­bit and oth­ers in Sin­ga­pore and the UK.

“All over the world, there are en­ter­prises do­ing the satel­lite busi­ness, but few can pro­duce rock­ets. The only two coun­tries pos­sess­ing pri­vate rock­et­man­u­fac­tur­ing cor­po­ra­tions are China and the US,” Shu said.

He hopes One Space will soon be an in­te­gral part of the in­ter­na­tional space­flight arena as China’s “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive” con­tin­ues to thrive and ex­pand up­ward into or­bit.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­cently signed the Space Pol­icy Di­rec­tive-2 (SPD-2), aim­ing to keep Amer­ica lead­ing the global com­mer­cial space in­dus­try.

Mean­while, Shu said China is now ac­tively in­volved in rel­e­vant pol­i­cy­mak­ing to en­cour­age more pri­vate com­pa­nies to join the in­dus­try with or­derly de­vel­op­ment.

Shu is op­ti­mistic about China’s future po­si­tion in the in­dus­try, ex­plain­ing that the next few years will be the start­ing point of mush­room-like growth.

The rocket man presently works 16 hours per day, in­clud­ing week­ends, so he has lit­tle time to spend with his fam­ily. But Shu’s daugh­ter thinks he is do­ing some­thing cool, call­ing him “a boss of a rocket com­pany.”

Pho­tos: Courtesy of Shu Chang

Top: Shu Chang Main: Rocket OS-X pro­duced by One Space blasts off on May 17.

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