Kuaizhou: Launching into the Commercial Aerospace Market
Since the mid-20th century, mankind has explored deeper and deeper into outer space, and the application of exploration achievements has impacted broader and broader areas of human life. Our lives now are more interconnected to outer space than ever. Today, with the multi-dimensional expansion of science and technology, our activities have reached out from a 2-dimensional flat space to a 3-dimensional outer space. In the process, satellites have become an indispensable “third eye” for human beings.
Outer space is a huge market
According to some statistics on aerospace investment, since the Moon landing of the US’s Apollo Program, countries around the world have paid more attention to outer space and invested more in the aerospace industry. These investments are highly concentrated in the rocket and satellite fields. Space experts believe that with successful development and applications of key space technologies, as well as with advancements of new projects and new areas, the size and scope of the space market will continue to expand and will eventually exceed that of other technology industries.
At present, some space technologies and applications have been repeatedly questioned and challenged. Satellites and other space technologies provide a great convenience in people’s lives, whether in the form of navigation, remote sensing, or communications. For example, we know in some places where sudden geological events occurred, governments and agencies could not predict when a disaster would strike or how they occurred and had difficulty formulating an effective rescue plan. A geological disaster can destroy mobile communication stations in a disaster-stricken area: communications in the area are interrupted, and the victims can’t ask for help. Sudden loss of connection can affect airplanes, cars, ships, and other means of transportation. Even in the best of circumstances, communication and navigation services can fail, leaving users lost and unable to seek help. Such countless cases show that while space technologies and applications have made our lives more convenient, our needs have not been fully met for a host of reasons. In the future, the space market will definitely become a great battlefield where commercial companies and entities will develop services and products and engage in competition that fixes the current shortcomings of our satellite-based infrastructure.
Mankind’s imagination is unlimited, and people’s pursuit of dreams is endless. Some people
want to experience taking a spaceship out of the atmosphere and see our beautiful Earth with their own eyes from outer space. Some people imagine mining on the Moon or Mars, and some even fancy emigrating to extraterrestrial bodies. With the advancement of science and technology and the improvement of aircraft, any of these wishes could be realized.
Kuaizhou takes off in the commercial aerospace market
China has vast lands, a large population, rich resources, numerous industries, and huge space market potential. With the backdrop of the great development of the country and the world, Kuaizhou Launch Vehicle has grown rapidly in response to the times.
Kuaizhou-1A (KZ-1A) is a highly reliable, cost-effective launch vehicle with precise injection accuracy. Developed independently by Expace Technology Co., Ltd., the launcher is able to send multiple satellites into orbit with a single launch, which provides customers with more flexible services for their small and micro satellites.
The KZ-1A solid launch vehicle is 20m long with a lift-off mass of 30 tonnes and a maximum diameter of 1.4m. It can send a 200kg payload into a 700km sunsynchronous orbit. The vehicle’s propulsion power is provided by three solid-fuel engines and one liquid-fuel engine. The rocket adopts the “three-horizontal test and launch mode,” i.e. horizontal assembly, horizontal testing, and horizontal transportation, which can effectively improve the convenience of operation and management. It can be launched by a mobile launcher on ordinary hard ground and does not require a complicated launch tower. This simplifies the launch process and support facilities. The rocket has an advanced final stage that can simultaneously ensure multisatellite launch capability and a highly precise injection attitude, thus meeting customers’ demands for fast multi-satellite launches and deployments.
In January 2017, KZ-1A solid launch vehicle successfully launched 3 satellites: the Jilin-1 SP03 and two cube satellites, the Xingyun Test-1 and Kaidun-1, into orbit. It marked a new milestone for the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) towards the commercial aerospace industry.
In September 2018, Kuaizhou1A Launch Vehicle (Y8) successfully sent Centispace-1 satellite for Beijing Future Navigation Technology Co., Ltd. into the predetermined orbit.
In August 2019, Kuaizhou1A Launch Vehicle (Y10) simultaneously launched a microgravity technology experiment satellite and Xiaoxiang-1-07 satellite into orbit.
In October 2019, Kuaizhou1A Launch Vehicle (Y11) sent the Jilin-1GF02 SP into a predetermined orbit at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The satellite is developed by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co., Ltd.
In November 2019, Kuaizhou1A Launch Vehicle (Y7) utilized the multi-satellite tandem layout to arrange small satellites for the first time. It sent two KL-Alpha
satellites into predetermined orbit at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
In January 2020, Kuaizhou1A Launch Vehicle (Y9) launched a broadband communication satellite at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center into the predetermined orbit. Developed by Galaxy Space (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd, the satellite’s communication capability reaches 10Gbps.
In May 2020, Kuaizhou-1A Launch Vehicle (Y6) successfully launched the Xingyun-2 satellite and paid tribute to the heroic city of Wuhan, the heroic people, and a broad mass of medical workers, by painting the slogans “Heroic Wuhan • Great China” and “Salute to Medical Workers” on the body of the rocket.
Wuhan builds “third pole” of China’s commercial aerospace industry
In February of 2016, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) and 4th Academy of CASIC established Expace Technology Co., Ltd.
in order to seize the market opportunity of aerospace commercialization. It is mainly engaged in the research and development of the Kuaizhou series of light low-orbit launch vehicles. It is the first company in China to specialize in commercial launch services, as “a pioneer in the commercial launch service, a pioneer in aerospace industry commercialization, and an explorer of the aerospace economy in China.” The establishment of this rocket company in Wuhan marks the city becoming the “third pole” of China’s commercial aerospace industry. Together with Beijing and Nanjing, it will greatly support and serve the commercial aerospace market of China and the world.
Since its inception, the company has actively explored the domestic satellite launch market and promoted in-depth pooling of capital, market information, and talent, aiming at becoming a world-class commercial launch service company.
In 2017, the company completed its first round of social financing and raised 1.2 billion yuan, which has been mainly used for building up the company’s capacity of developing and producing the Kuaizhou series of rockets, other product research and development, and construction of an innovation center. The company also invested in constructing a rocket AIT center (Phase I) at the Wuhan National Aerospace Industry Base. This center is mainly used for testing, assembly & integration, satelliterocket-launcher systematic integration & joint testing, test verification, production management, logistics, and warehousing of the Kuaizhou solid rockets. The center currently has an annual capacity of assembly and testing of 20 solid rockets. It marks the launch of the first digital and intelligent general AIT center for commercial rockets in China.
Besides Expace, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) and 4th
Academy of CASIC have also established another subsidiary, Leobit Technology Co., Ltd in Wuhan, to be dedicated to research, innovation, production, and utilization of satellite technologies. At the same time, CASIC has introduced commercial aerospace companies and enterprises into the base, in order to turn it into a world-class commercial aerospace base.
In addition, CASIC initiated an annual industry conference called the “China (International) Commercial Aerospace Forum” by leveraging Wuhan’s geographical location and industrial advantages. By gathering domestic and foreign aerospace experts to discuss the trends of international commercial aerospace, together with exchanging business & management modes and technological innovation achievements, the forum is becoming a high-end communication platform favored by domestic and foreign aerospace experts. (Translation: Xiao Jiayan)