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DFHour #30: launch news from CCAF, SpaceX rejects Chinese money, and more

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?
Welcome to the Dongfang Hour China Space Newsletter for 22-28 Nov 2021. The most notable event of last week being the 2021 China Commercial Aerospace Forum, this issue will focus on the avalanche of launch-related updates at the 3-day event. Next week’s issue will be dedicated to satellite-related updates from the forum. You can also watch our weekly episode for a deeper dive into the Forum!
Highlight of the Week: the 2021 CCAF
The 2021 edition of the China Commercial Aerospace Forum (CCAF) took place from November 24-26 in the city of Wuhan. The CCAF, hosted every year by CASIC since 2015, is the annual centerpiece event of CASIC’s commercial space initiatives. The keynote speeches, thematic round tables and exhibitions are a great way to get the latest updates on China’s commercial space ecosystem, and this edition did not disappoint.
As we have seen every year at the CCAF, the first day of the conference involved the city and provincial leaders visiting the exhibition center, with CASIC going out of its way to impress the local leadership - presumably in an effort to win more political, financial, or other logistical support. Important provincial and local actors such as Cao Guangjing, the Vice Governor of Hubei Province, and Cheng Yongwen, the Mayor of Wuhan, delivered keynote speeches during the first day of the conference.
The other keynote came from Liu Shiquan, General Manager and Deputy Party Secretary of CASIC. Liu notably referred to CASIC’s Xingyun project as progressing smoothly, and perhaps more notably, did not refer to the Hongyun project at any point. As a reminder, Xingyun is CASIC’s 80-satellite narrowband constellation, while Hongyun is their ~300 satellite broadband constellation. As we predicted back in April 2021 when China announced its SatNet company and implicitly its Guowang megaconstellation, Hongyun seems likely to be merged into Guowang, while Xingyun, as a separate project with very different objectives, seems likely to live to see another day. On a different note, Liu also noted that CASIC plans to launch more than 12 satellites in 2022. While we cannot say with 100% certainty that these 12 will be Xingyun satellites, it seems pretty likely given the wording from Liu.
A separate speech from Hou Xiufeng, Board Secretary at CASIC, noted that Xingyun and Expace are about to complete a RMB 3 billion round of financing, which again, seems to indicate that CASIC is putting all their eggs in the narrowband constellation basket, at least in terms of their satellite manufacturing and operation plans. It is also an apparent indication that they are pleased with Expace’s progress, and plan to give them more money.
Overall, the 2021 CCAF saw noteworthy explicit statements being made, and also some interesting implicit statements or lack thereof, notably the apparent death of Hongyun.
CASIC Chairman Liu Shiquan gave one of the keynote speeches at the CCAF
CASIC Chairman Liu Shiquan gave one of the keynote speeches at the CCAF
The Week in Launch
We saw a plethora of launch updates from a variety of commercial companies at the CCAF, including iSpace, Deep Blue Aerospace, SpaceTrek, AAEngine, Expace, Landspace and CASIC.
iSpace, one of the leading Chinese commercial launch companies, and the first to have successfully sent a payload to orbit, showed an impressive enthusiasm for space tourism. The company is developing a rocket and capsule for suborbital space tourism, and apparently plans to derive the Hyperbola-2Z, a VTVL prototype for their upcoming Hyperbola 2 reusable medium-lift launch vehicle, into a single stage rocket which would launch a crewed capsule and follow a suborbital trajectory before landing back on Earth using parachutes.
The other project, and perhaps the most ambitious one, is in the continuity of the so-called “spaceplane with windows” seen on previous marketing material. The company plans to develop a second stage spaceplane, initially for suborbital space tourism as well, but with the prospect of being further upgraded to enable orbital space tourism and point-to-point space transportation. iSpace hence appears as a new commercial player in the Chinese commercial space tourism landscape, besides CAS Space and Space Transportation. The question of whether there is a market for so many players or even if there is a tangible market for space tourism in China remains open.
Commercial launch company Deep Blue Aerospace announced plans to develop the “Nebula-1 and Nebula-1H” rockets, a departure from the previously announced plans for an expendable Nebula-1 and a reusable Nebula-2. While we do not know the payload capacity of the apparently heavy-lift Nebula-1H, it may have a bigger payload than the Nebula-2, formerly referred to as a “medium-lift” rocket. In another example of increasing payload size, we saw DBA upgrade the expected launch capacity of the Nebula-1 from 500kg to 1t to 550km SSO. 
Another interesting update comes from SpaceTrek (星途探索). Founded in 2015, the startup has had on the roadmap two rockets: the suborbital single stage solid-fueled Tansuo-1 which made its maiden flight in December 2019, and a small lift solid-fueled rocket called the Xingtu-1, which would be able to put 240 kg in SSO. The company apparently has even bigger ambitions, with a presentation at the CCAF showing an unnamed much larger 3.35m diameter reusable launch vehicle able to put 3 tons in LEO. We note that the rocket is of similar size to the Landspace ZQ2, iSpace SQX2, and Galactic Energy Pallas-1, just to name a few.
The conference saw AAEngine (or 空天引擎), an engine manufacturer making kerolox engines and hypergolic fuel engines for rockets and other spacecraft, show two liquid-fueled rockets, the AX-1 and the AX-11, which look like small-lift and medium-lift reusable launch vehicles. Previously, the company had focused on engines and components (valves, pumps, combustions chambers), but now appear to be developing a launch vehicle.
Expace, a commercial spin-off of CASIC, gave some interesting updates on their upcoming launch schedule, with 7 launches of Kuaizhou 1A planned in the next 3 months - an indication that the company is getting into a production groove, following a failure in 2020 and 3 consecutive successful launches in the past couple of months. Separately, a slide of Expace’s presentation showed a mysterious medium-heavy solid fueled rocket, which could perhaps be the unconfirmed Kuaizhou 21 or 31 (although this is speculation).This week also saw the successful launch of the Shiyan-11 satellite by a KZ-1A, this marking an uncommon national space program launch by Expace, and potentially signaling future such launches. 
Last but not least: Landspace. Landspace is considered as one of the most advanced Chinese commercial launch companies, and is currently developing the Zhuque-2 medium lift methalox rocket, which can put 4 tons into LEO and which is planned to be made reusable at a later stage. While there was no big scoop during the CCAF, the company did show the first stage of the ZQ-2 performing a vertical landing. This is notable because there were doubts about the feasibility of making the ZQ-2 reusable considering the 4-engine layout, which would mean that the ZQ-2 first stage engines would need to throttle significantly, and that the engine they ignite for landing would have to compensate for not being in an axial position. The keynote presentation of Landspace did seem to give reassurance that reusability was on their to-do-list!
The last piece of CCAF news comes from CASIC’s Tengyun, a two-stage-to-orbit HTHL spaceplane, which according to the company has already successfully performed a first “cycle-switching test flight”. If true, this would be a breakthrough, as this type of spaceplane uses turbine-based combined cycle engines. This is cutting edge technology and is, as far as we know, only being pursued outside of China by the British company Reaction Engines Limited. However, no images of the flight nor of the flight hardware confirm this piece of news, which is a pity since this project is said to be a civil program.
Not related to the CCAF, early Saturday morning China time saw the launch of the ChinaSat-1D satellite from Xichang. Limited information was available, however the linked article notes the satellite can provide voice, data, and broadcast. According to the always insightful Gunther’s Space Page, the satellite may be the latest in a series of military/relay comms satellites. Lastly, the second Gaofen-3 EO satellite was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 23. It will be networked with the first Gaofen-3 satellite already in orbit.
CASSpace rocket series
CASSpace rocket series
The Week in China’s Space Program
Last week marked the 1-year anniversary of Chang’e 5, launched on November 23 2020. The spacecraft was composed of four modules (lander, ascent vehicle, orbiter, return capsule), and brought back 1.731 kg back to Earth. Chang’e 5 was the first lunar sample return mission since Luna 24 in 1976.
On November 25, CMSA released a call for experiments to fly on the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft. The call is open to government entities, research institutes, educational institutions, enterprises and industrial entities, among others. Projects should be innovative, feasible, and demonstrate industrial development and application value. The deadline for this first round of applications is January 15, 2022. More information on the CMSA website!
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
Monday 22 saw China Satcom (ChinaSat) announce an agreement with Thai satellite operator Thaicom to give ChinaSat market access to the Thai market. The agreement will allow ChinaSat to lease capacity from the ChinaSat-12 satellite into Thailand, which has historically been a fairly protected satcom market. 
Stay tuned for next week’s DFH episode and newsletter, where we will analyze updates on satellite application revealed at the 2021 CCAF!
The Week in Policy & Events
Besides the 2021 CCAF-related updates analysed above, one piece of policy-related news is worth mentioning. Last week, Hainan Province published support for several new industries, referring to them as “land, air, and sea”. The announcement calls for support for the agricultural/seed sector, the deep sea sector (not entirely clear what this encompasses), and the space sector. Hainan is home to the Wenchang Launch Center, and an increasing number of commercial space firms, most recently including iSpace.
Other News of the Week
Chinese media company and occasional VC Leo Group (利欧集团) announced this week that a US$50M investment into SpaceX was returned to the company. Notably, Leo Group had invested US$50M into SpaceX via a third company, TBCA, which may or may not have shielded from SpaceX the fact that the source of the money was Chinese. After the announcement that SpaceX would return the money, Leo’s share price has fallen around 15% in several days.
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Space News(letter). If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on our websiteYouTubeTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
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