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.
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.