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DFH#21: launch of Tianzhou-3, 7th funding round by Space Pioneer and 1st Chinese space-grade controller chip!

The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, by Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Analyst Aurélie Gillet.

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
The Week in Launch
Commercial launch company Space Pioneer announced yet another funding round, led by a national SME development fund. This round comes around 2 months after their Pre-B round of funding, which we discussed on the DFHour Episode 44 back in August. This is the seventh funding round by Space Pioneer in the past 2.5 years, with the company having likely raised more than ~RMB 700M, from blue chip, mostly state-owned or partly state-owned investors. The pedigree of the company’s CEO, who is the former CTO of Landspace, has apparently proved useful in accelerating the development of Space Pioneer. This round of funding will partly be used for the company’s Suzhou production park, which broke ground in April 2021, hence contributing to the increasing number of secondary or tertiary facilities for commercial launch manufacturers in the Yangtze River Delta.
This week, we also have two more technical announcements. First, several reports of the past weeks have been discussing China’s completion of a new liquid hydrogen production facility, an essential capability for the heavy-lift Long March 5 (which uses a hydrogen second stage) as well as the YF-75 hydrolox engine used in the upper stage of several Long March rockets. The production capacity of the new facility was reported to be at 1.7t/day, with the ability to reach 2.3t/day at full capacity. The facility was designed by the 101th Institute of AALPT (Academy of Aerospace Liquid Propulsion Technology), with 90%+ components being sourced domestically, according to Institute director Wang Chenggang.
Lastly, on September 26, Chinese commercial rocket engine manufacturer S-Motor announced that it had completed the tests of a cold flow engine test stand for solid-fueled rocket engines. The test stand will notably enable to test solid engine structural properties, without being destructive as is the case of full-fledged test of expendable rocket engines. This technology will enable more rapid and cost-efficient development cycles, according to the WeChat post by the company.
China's new liquid hydrogen production facility
China's new liquid hydrogen production facility
The Week in Satellite Applications
EO data analytics company F-Squares Technology announced this week an agreement with PICC Property and Casualty, one of the largest insurers in China. The agreement calls for PICC P&C to use F-Squares EO data + analytics to gather information on natural disasters, agriculture, and general underwriting. The deal specifies using both optical and SAR remote sensing data, another example of the increasing importance of SAR in the Chinese space sector.
Another example of satellite application this week comes from ADASpace, a commercial constellation operator which has been collaborating with Sichuan Province to create videos of the province from above using the company’s satellites. The video, released for the fourth “Chinese Farmers’ Harvest Festival”, shows the evolution of the province’s arable land through time (mostly over the past decade). In June 2021, ADASpace and other media launched the “Viewing China though Satellites” project (卫星看中国), of which this video is but one example.
Satellite image of the Yuechi county in Sichuan, in the past
Satellite image of the Yuechi county in Sichuan, in the past
Satellite image of the Yuechi county in Sichuan, nowadays
Satellite image of the Yuechi county in Sichuan, nowadays
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
Xi’an based commercial company Exa Tech released a new aerospace-grade controller chip at the China International Optronics Exhibition in Shenzhen. The chip, which was jointly designed with Xi'an Micro-electronics Institute of Technology (西安微电子技术研究所), is China’s first aerospace-grade controller chip. In terms of technical characteristics, the chip adopts an aerospace-grade SSD controller chip frame structure, including two types of host interfaces (PCIe 2.0 x4 and SATA 3) and equipped with 6 independent NAND Flash controllers. At the press conference, EXA Tech also announced the signing of a strategic cooperation with StarDetect (星测未来), as well as the establishment of a joint R&D center for advanced storage, packaging and testing technologies with Xi’an Institute of Microelectronics Technology.
The Week in China’s Space Program
When the three-Taikonauts crew has only just come back from space, work is already underway for the next crewed mission to the Chinese Space Station starting in October 2021 (next month!). Indeed, Monday September 20 saw the launch of the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft from the Wenchang Launch Center in Hainan Province, onboard a Long March-7. After reaching the correct orbit, the cargo’s solar arrays and relay antenna were deployed. Tianzhou-3 then docked successfully with the Tianhe-1 core module of the CSS about 6 and ½ hours later, in what the Chinese call “快速交会对接” or “fast rendez-vous and docking”. Thanks to the Beidou-3 satnav constellation services and due to the increased computing power of both Tianzhou and the Tianhe-1 module, the pace of this rendez-vous was faster than the ones performed by Tianzhou-2 (8h) and Tianzhou-1 (2-3 days). Tianzhou-3 carried lots of supplies for the upcoming Shenzhou-13 crew, which will stay in orbit for 6 months: an absolute record for Chinese spaceflight. For more details, you can watch our this week’s DFH episode!
If you needed more proof that the Chinese space program is moving forward: on Sept. 23-24, China ignited for the first time the 4 HETs that equip the Tianhe-1 core module of the Chinese Space Station, a technology that the country has been developing for its crewed program since 2011. The 4 HETs complement another set of 4 large chemical orbital control thrusters, a mature technology that China has been using for its space program for several decades. This was not the first time a Chinese HET was sent into orbit (a prototype had already been tested on the Shijian-9A satellite in 2012), but still represents a significant step for Chinese spacecraft as they move towards more efficient propulsion technologies.
For those who are interested in understanding the Chinese space program, China’s English-language news channel CGTN released last week a documentary of 44 minutes, focused entirely on its space program. The documentary gives an overview of China’s space program from the early days (first satellite and launch in 1970 with the Dongfanghong-1) to today, giving unique insights into difficulties encountered by China.
Launch of the Tianzhou-3 cargo
Launch of the Tianzhou-3 cargo
The Week in Policy & Events
Plenty of events are being organised in China to promote awareness about its space program. One example is the Zhuhai Airshow, which will take place from Sept. 28 and Oct. 3, in the southern city of Zhuhai, Guangdong province. While the airshow’s main focus is aerospace, with an important display of military aircraft and armament, as well as civil aviation, the area dedicated to the space sector has been growing over the past editions, and with notably an impressive mock-up of the Tianhe Core Module in the 2018 edition. Several images circulating on Chinese social media show the construction of the space display, with mock-ups of Long March rockets and other CASC subsidiary products. There could also be some announcements linked to China’s space program so stay tuned to the Dongfang Hour next week!
Another example is the collaboration between the Shenzhen-based Vanke, one of China’s largest real-estate developers, and CALT commercial launch subsidiary China Rocket to hold large scale space popularization events in multiple cities of North Eastern China (Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Yantai, Qingdao, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan…) during China’s “Golden Week”. While Vanke’s core business is real estate development, it had been dabbling with space for some time, with notably a lead investment in Chinese satellite company ADASpace in 2019 (A round, 100M RMB).
Other News of the Week
An article published by Xinhua on 21 September gave an overview of the developing space sector in Hainan, as well as on what was an eventful week for Wenchang. In addition to the Tianzhou-3 launch from Wenchang Space Launch Center and associated influx of people, we saw the 2021 Wenchang International Aviation and Aerospace Forum. If Hainan is a relatively less-developed province, efforts have been made to diversify and upgrade the island’s economy - notably by developing its aerospace industry. After becoming home to the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the mid-2010s, Wenchang has had 14 launches in the 5 years since it opened, i.e. around 1 every 4 months, and has seen people making a pilgrimage from various parts of the Mainland to Hainan Island for launches at the site (including a symphony orchestra). Lastly, the Wenchang International Aerospace City project, which was unveiled in June 2020 as one of 11 key industrial parks in the Hainan Free Trade Port, has attracted more than 30 entities, including CALT and the Aerospace Information Research Center of the CAS (the latter is notably one of China’s leading institutions for SAR technology, and may have a connection with the Hainan constellation of EO satellites given the inclusion of SAR in the constellation). A space cluster to watch for moving forward! 
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News(letter). If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your kind attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on YouTubeTwitterInstagram or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
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