Trial and Er­ror

Un­de­terred by the fail­ure of the its pri­vate satel­lite launch, China’s pri­vate space in­dus­try set for relaunch

Beijing Review - - BUSINESS - By Zhang Shasha

Since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1958, the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in north­west China’s Gobi Desert has wit­nessed more than 110 freeze-frame mo­ments of suc­cess­ful launches, in­clud­ing the coun­try’s first satel­lite Dong­fanghong-1 in 1970, the Shen­zhou 5 manned space­craft that car­ried the first Chi­nese as­tro­naut into space in 2003 and two Tian­gong space lab­o­ra­to­ries in 2011 and 2016.

But a depar­ture on Oc­to­ber 27 broke the long­time record of suc­cess in the cen­ter’s his­tory, when the ZQ-1, China’s first three-stage car­rier rocket built by a pri­vate com­pany to carry small pay­loads, blasted off at 4 a.m. The solid pro­pel­lant launch ve­hi­cle is 19 me­ters tall and has a take­off weight of 27 tons. Un­for­tu­nately, it failed to reach its in­tended or­bit.

Landspace, the Bei­jing-based pri­vate rocket man­u­fac­turer that de­vel­oped the ZQ1, said the rocket’s first and sec­ond stages worked well and the pay­load sep­a­ra­tion was as ex­pected. The mal­func­tion oc­curred only at the third stage. How­ever, Zhang Changwu, CEO of Landspace, sees a sil­ver lin­ing in the de­ba­cle.

“We suc­ceeded in launch­ing the rocket,” Zhang told the me­dia. “The ex­pe­ri­ence we gained from eval­u­at­ing the rocket’s flight con­di­tions will help us re­model the rocket as well as ad­vance new rocket re­search and devel­op­ment.”

De­spite its lim­ited suc­cess, Landspace’s trial won ap­plause from the pub­lic be­cause the launch rep­re­sents the devel­op­ment of China’s com­mer­cial space in­dus­try. In the past, the state had a monopoly in China’s aerospace ex­plo­ration in­dus­try. As pri­vate man­u­fac­tur­ers are en­ter­ing the sec­tor, it’s im­por­tant for these new­com­ers to gain ex­pe­ri­ence from er­rors and forge ahead.

Sup­port­ive mea­sures

“This is the best era for the com­mer­cial aerospace in­dus­try,” Zhang said at a fo­rum on aerospace in Harbin, north­east China’s Hei­longjiang Prov­ince, in April. His com­pany was the first pri­vate en­ter­prise in China al­lowed to join the rocket mar­ket and also the first to ac­quire a li­cense for launch­ing car­rier rock­ets. Zhang at­trib­uted the growth to the global trend of space in­dus­try com­mer­cial­iza­tion and fa­vor­able gov­ern­ment poli­cies.

State-owned com­pa­nies and in­sti­tutes dom­i­nated China’s aerospace ex­plo­ration un­til 2014, when pri­vate com­pa­nies were al­lowed to de­velop and launch rock­ets.

China’s Space Ac­tiv­i­ties in 2016, a white pa­per is­sued by the State Coun­cil In­for­ma­tion Of­fice, said “non-gov­ern­men­tal cap­i­tal and other so­cial sec­tors are en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate in space-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing sci­en­tific re­search and pro­duc­tion, space in­fra­struc­ture, space in­for­ma­tion prod­ucts and ser­vices, and use of satel­lites to in­crease the level of com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the space in­dus­try.” Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, the gov­ern­ment has in­creased its co­op­er­a­tion with pri­vate in­vestors, and the mech­a­nism for gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment of as­tro­nau­tic prod­ucts and ser­vices has been im­proved.

The pri­vate car­rier rocket has a huge mar­ket in the satel­lite launch busi­ness. As the cost of a rocket launch con­tin­ues to de­crease due to mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, en­ter­prises will be ready to pay for their satel­lites. Landspace al­ready has an or­der from Dan­ish com­pany Gomspace, which was placed in Jan­uary, mark­ing the first rocket launch ser­vice or­der from an in­ter­na­tional client to a Chi­nese pri­vate en­ter­prise.

The lu­cra­tive mar­ket and pol­icy sup­port have en­cour­aged more pri­vate en­trepreneurs to em­brace rocket re­search and devel­op­ment. To­day, there are at least nine pri­vate space star­tups in China, like Landspace, Space Honor and One Space, ac­cord­ing to Itjuzi. com, a data­base of Chi­nese com­pa­nies. They are grow­ing fast since their es­tab­lish­ment two or three

Spec­ta­tors watch China’s first pri­vate three-stage car­rier rocket, the take off from the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter on Oc­to­ber 27. The rocket failed to put the satel­lite it car­ried into or­bit

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