Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, with a touch of eccentricity and some attempts at humor. By Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Intern Aurélie Gillet
What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
In this week’s Newsletter Issue #6 covering 7 - 13 June 2021, we discuss the following:
Announcement of iSpace Hyperbola-3 Rocket
¥400 Funding Round by Launch Company oSpace
Postcards from Mars sent by Tianwen-1
Shenzhen Municipal Government Raises the Stakes for Satellite Manufacturing
Long March-2D Launches with some interesting payloads
Chinese Academy of Sciences announces a new EO constellation
Tsinghua University and the Shanghai Government team up for a MEO comms constellation reminiscent of O3b
The Silk Road Constellation gains traction
APT Mobile Satcom considers more HTS capacity
Parachutes tested on rocket boosters
Shenzhou-2F rolled onto the launch pad in advance of this month’s launch
ADASpace and Huawei sign an agreement
1) iSpace Announces Hyperbola-3 Rocket
Chinese commercial launch company iSpace announced on June 7th that it had officially validated and completed the definition phase of its reusable medium-heavy lift rocket, the Hyperbola-3, and kicked off the R&D phase. The Hyperbola-3 and 3B variant are reminiscent of the Falcon-9 and Falcon Heavy to some extent, and indicate a significant increase in ambitions for one of China’s leading commercial launch companies.
iSpace plans to reuse each SQX-3 20 times, and has set the inaugural launch of “China’s Falcon 9” for June 2024. Overall, a very cool update from iSpace, I believe the SQX-3 may be one of the real “Falcon-9”-like competitors outside of the US.
2) Commercial Launch Startup oSpace Bursts Onto the Scene
Last week, we received news that a stealthy launch company known as Ospace (or 东方空间技术, with O likely short for Oriental given the “东方”) had completed a angel round of funding of 400 million RMB (around $62M!). The lead investors of this round were Sequoia China and Matrix Partners China, two premier VCs that have invested in a number of space companies before.
Other investors included Sany and the Tianfu Sanjiang Fund. The company mentions that it is developing the “Gravity” series of launch vehicles, which includes expendable and reusable rockets. An image published by the company includes an artistic rendering of a sea launch base, with some resemblance to the former Sea Launch company.
Finally, we get further images for China’s Tianwen-1 mission this week! China’s national space agency CNSA had been unusually quiet on Tianwen-1 since it had sent back the first images from the rover on May 22nd: 3 unbearably long weeks during which many space fans around the planet ranted a bit about CNSA’s secretive communication policy, while at the same time NASA’s Perseverance rover was as talkative as ever. But in the end, the wait was worthwhile, and we got 4 amazing high-res images this week from Zhurong, including a pretty incredible selfie.
4) Shenzhen Publishes Support for Satellite Manufacturing
The Shenzhen Development and Reform Commission published some policy support for the satellite manufacturing sector on Tuesday 8 June. The support involves some big numbers, namely up to ¥300M (~$47M) for “major equipment and key component development projects”, up to ¥200M for a single satellite project, and up to ¥50M for launch insurance. Immediate beneficiaries will include local satellite manufacturers/operators and insurance companies, but longer-term, space companies (and in particular those involved in satellite manufacturing) from outside Shenzhen are being heavily incentivized to come do things in the city.
We saw a Long March-2D launch with 4 satellites. Most noteworthy was the Beijing-3 satellite, manufactured by CAST and to be operated by 21AT, an EO service provider. The satellite likely replaces one of the earlier Beijing series of satellites, manufactured by SSTL and representing an early example of Sino-UK space cooperation. Other payloads included the Haisi-2 EO satellite manufactured by CAST subsidiary (Beijing) Aerospace Dongfanghong and Xiamen University, and a couple of satellites built by Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong, a sort of sister company to the Beijing branch. Interesting mix of collaborators on these four satellites.
9 June saw the announcement of “Smart SkyNet”, a MEO constellation plan led by Tsingshen Technology (清申科技) and which seems very similar to SES’s O3b MEO constellation, first launched in 2013. In a speech by Tsingshen General Manager Chen Miaoliang, he noted that the constellation’s first phase aims to send 8x satellites to 20,000km MEO, with the first 8 satellites having around 200 Gbps of total throughput. Chen also noted plans for a 2nd and 3rd phase that would bring terabits per second of capacity. These details represent a significant increase in clarity from the very brief mention of “Smart SkyNet” by the Shanghai Government in their 2020-2022 New Infrastructure Development Plan, published in June 2020.
On June 9, Chinese academician Hao Yue revealed details on the first satellite of the Silk Road constellation, “Xidian-1”, to be launched in September 2021. The Silk Road Constellation (丝路天图）is an Earth Observation constellation that was announced back in October 2019 at the 2nd Silk Round Commercial Space Symposium in Xi’an. According to initial reports, the constellation is composed of 24 satellites with notably optical, hyperspectral, and SAR payloads. It aims at providing remote sensing services to China and countries of the Belt and Road Initiative.
An article from excellent IFC (and aviation) news source RunwayGirlNetwork noted that APT Mobile Satcom considering more HTS capacity to add to its recently-launched Apstar-6D satellite, which itself has some ~50-100 Gbps of Ku-band HTS capacity. The article does not include any specifics, and in terms of APT Mobile Satcom only went as far as a company representative saying that “there is room to grow satellite and add more capacity”. Perhaps more interesting in the article is the discussion around satellite IFC vs. air-to-ground (ATG), with the latter represented by terrestrial behemoth ZTE.
During the launch of the Long March 3B on June 3 (which we covered in the previous edition of the Newsletter), China tested a novel parachute system on the rocket boosters to control the landing area. The 300 square-meter parachute was designed by CAST’s Institute 508, and enabled to reduce the uncertainty of the landing area by 70%, with this aimed at reducing the risk of rocket boosters landing on nearby homes or otherwise inhabited areas, which has been an increasingly serious issue at Xichang Satellite Launch Center. There is a good discussion on Chinese launch sites available here.
11) Long March-2F for Crewed Shenzhou Mission rolled onto launch pad
On June 9th, the fully assembled Long March 2F carrying the Shenzhou crewed spacecraft was rolled out to the launchpad LC-43/91 of Jiuquan, in Inner Mongolia. It is planned for launch in mid-June (with no exact date available at the time of writing), and will send the first crew of three taikonauts to the Chinese Space Station core module Tianhe. This is shortly after the launch of the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft in late May 2021. In total, the taikonauts will stay 3 months in the Tianhe core module, and will be followed in September/October by the launch of the Tianzhou-3 cargo resupply mission and the Shenzhou 13 crew. A nice time-lapse of the roll-out of Long March 2F over the past week is available here.
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News Roundup. 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 YouTube, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source.