DFHour #31: An interview with Landspace's CEO, China's Space Diplomacy, Alibaba Hiring for LEO, and more

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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 29 Nov-5 Dec 2021. This week, we analyse China’s space and nuclear diplomacy through its recent meetings with Argentina, Ukraine and Italy to discuss space, nuclear and defense-related issues - along with the main updates in each verticals of the space sector. Check out our weekly episode for more details!
Highlight of the Week: China’s space and nuclear diplomacy
During the past couple of weeks, China has been intensively engaging in bilateral talks on space and nuclear-related issues, meeting representatives of Ukraine, Argentina since 12 November.
This week Wednesday, China and Argentina met and discussed plans to strengthen bilateral ties, with specific focus on science & technology development. The meeting was between Argentina’s ambassador to China, Sabino Vaca Narvaja, and Zhang Kejian, CNSA Director and Vice Minister of Industry and Information Technology. The two agreed to promote negotiations of a “2021-2025 Space Cooperation Plan”, encompassing space science, deep space exploration, and earth observation.
Argentina has become an important partner for China’s space ambitions in recent years across these different areas. In space science and deep space exploration, China recently built the Espacio Lejano Estacion in Neuquén Province of Argentina as part of its Deep Space Exploration Network. On the commercial side of things, Satellite Herd, a Chinese commercial TT&C company, recently opened a ground station in Argentina. Zhang also offered during the meeting the prospect of scholarships for Argentinian students in areas of space, nuclear energy, and defense industry areas, which will be important for Argentina given that the country has been trying to develop and maintain domestic space capabilities. 
In what was indeed a very busy week for Zhang Kejian, the very next day, CNSA and the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) held virtual talks, apparently centered on the 2021-2025 “Program of Ukraine - China Cooperation in Space”. This comes about 1 year after China and Ukraine signed a long-term cooperation agreement in space encompassing 69 projects worth >US$70M over the period of 2021-2025.
The two sides have historically cooperated in propulsion-related areas (among other things), with Ukraine home to a lot of rocket science brain power. Sources inside of China suggested that at least one Chinese commercial launch company has been in talks with the Ukrainians about collaboration and technology transfer. Early last year, the Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister for EU and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Dmytro Kuleba, stated that Ukraine needed to decrease trade barriers with China and enhance cooperation in the field of space. 
These two meetings come about 3 weeks after a meeting between Zhang Kejian and Italian Ambassador to China, Luca Ferrari, which took place on 12 November in Beijing and during which both parties discussed cooperation in the space and nuclear fields. 
Overall, this series of meetings confirms that China (and other countries) see the space, nuclear, and defense realms as critical. As China continues to develop its own capabilities in these fields, it may become a more attractive international partner, in particular for countries looking to bolster or maintain their own industries.
The Week in Launch
If we needed further proof that China is serious about developing hypersonic technology, last week provided two tangible instances of the country’s achievements. First, CASIC’s Institute 31 announced progress on the Yunlong hypersonic air breathing engine for future spaceplane project. The 31st Institute of the 3rd Academy of CASIC achieved a test run of their Yunlong combined cycle engine, at speeds of Mach 5, with the objective of testing the cooling capabilities of the engine precooler, an essential component of hypersonic airbreathing engines. The test was reported to be successful, with the ability of making incoming airflow temperature drop by 1000°C in milliseconds. The efforts to develop an air breathing engine for hypersonic spacecraft is consistent with another CASIC Institute 31 presentation during CCAF, of a roadmap to building a two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane by 2030 and a single-stage-to-orbit aircraft by 2035.
Second, the Aerodynamic Research Institute of AVIC announced completion of key calibration test for new FL-64 hypersonic wind tunnel. AVIC ARI announced in a recent WeChat post that it had completed an undefined number of its latest FL-64 1-m diameter wind tunnel. The FL-64 is AVIC’s latest generation hypersonic wind tunnel of which the construction started in 2019. It will be able to simulate Mach numbers between 4 and 8, at an altitude of 48 km and 900°K. The wind tunnel can operate for longer than 30 seconds, and can test a range of functions, including “separation and release” of lift generating payloads. This comes in addition to the JF-22 highly hypersonic shock tunnel (up to Mach 30), developed by the Institute of Mechanics of the CAS, to be completed in 2022. A good summary by SCMP here.
FL-64 wind tunnel
FL-64 wind tunnel
Late November saw the publication of an excellent interview with Roger Zhang Changwu, CEO of Landspace. In the interview, Zhang confirmed the maiden launch of the ZQ-2 in 2022, and that manufacturing capabilities for the rocket would be completed by the end of 2021. When asked about the delay in the first launch of ZQ-2 (it was originally planned for 2020), Zhang says that Landspace has been more focused on developing infrastructure, and that in the rocket industry, infrastructure is far more important than building a single rocket. 
An interesting dynamic during the interview is the comparison of Landspace to SpaceX, which reportedly made Zhang slightly uncomfortable. Indeed, defining Landspace as a “Chinese version of SpaceX” might indicate that Landspace is simply copying SpaceX, which Zhang does not feel to be the case: if Landspace is building rockets, just like SpaceX and Blue Origin, they’re doing it their own way using their own technology, and they recognize that anyone could do it given enough time and money.
Other highlights of the article include some discussion about Landspace’s designation as a “new small giant enterprise” (新小巨人企业) by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in August 2021. The company achieved this designation due to its progress in liquid methalox engines. At the time, the MIIT named a total of 2,930 enterprises as “small giants”, of which >70% have been around for 10 years or more (making Landspace on the younger side). Overall, a good read providing great insights into the mind of the leader of one of China’s leading launch firms!
Roger Zhang Changwu, CEO of Landspace
Roger Zhang Changwu, CEO of Landspace
The Week in China’s Space Program
This week’s news on China’s space program revolve around international cooperation with Russia and with the European Space Agency.
As reported by TAAS, on November 23 Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament), reiterated at a session of the Russia-China inter-parliamentary commission on cooperation that “Russia is ready to provide support in implementing ambitious scientific projects.” The main project currently undertaken is the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), over which the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in March 2021, inviting international partners to join the endeavor. Matviyenko further specified that Sino-Russian cooperation will extend to the education sector, with Russian and Chinese universities “fostering their interaction.” It is rather unclear why Russia’s willingness to cooperate with China on the project needs to be reiterated. Lastly, in stating that Russia is ready to “provide support” to China, the latter increasingly appears as the overall leader of the project.
On November 20, ESA announced the success of the communication experiments between Zhurong and Mars Express conducted earlier in November. More specifically, the Zhurong rover successfully transmitted data ‘in the blind’ to ESA’s Mars Orbiter without the latter having previously sent a signal to Zhurong, according to usual communication procedures, because the frequency sent by Mars Express could not be received by Zhurong. Mars Express subsequently relayed the data to ESA, which in turn forwarded it to the Zhurong team at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center. This success suggests that interoperability between spacecrafts may still be possible despite discrepancy in frequencies sent or received.
ESA Mars Express relays data from CNSA Zhurong rover
ESA Mars Express relays data from CNSA Zhurong rover
The Week in Satellite Applications
The results of the in-orbit demonstration test of an iodine electric propulsion system manufactured by ThrustMe and integrated into a Spacety satellite were published in the prestigious journal Nature on November 17. The experimental payload was launched on November 6, 2020 by a Long March 6 rocket. Besides marking progress in propulsion technology, this successful test also demonstrates the value of Spacety’s business model of providing ‘Satellite-as-a-Service’
Satellite navigation and communications equipment manufacturer Haige Communications announced a RMB 642M contract this week for wireless communication and Beidou-related equipment. The company has 60+ years of experience in wireless communication and navigation, and has developed strong capacities along the industrial chain, including in “chips, modules, antennas, terminals, systems, and operations”. Haige plans to increase its deployment in Beidou navigation, AI technology militarization, 5G and satellite Internet - among other technologies.
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
New Chinese commercial company Hualu Space proposes to use a network of GEO relay satellites to circumvent challenges of data transmission. One of the main problems that any EO satellite operator faces is to have a sufficiently dense network of ground stations to enable the satellites to pass enough times over ground stations to perform data downlinks, and command uplinks. China is facing this problem, despite having built stations in Argentina, Ethiopia, Namibia and other countries.
According to Hualu Space, a network of 3 to 4 GEO relay satellites will suffice to relay information from LEO to ground stations in China. Now comes the question of the viability of the project. Hualu Space being a commercial spin-off of the CAS founded in October 2018, it will certainly benefit from substantial financial support; it also opens the door to many TT&C contracts as the CAS is closely involved in many other space projects which may require such services. Nevertheless, sending a couple of GEO satellites into orbit would cost a minimum of tens of millions of US$, and more likely hundreds of millions.
This week saw the announcement of a new Earth Observation constellation, namely the Tiangang Constellation of 36 satellites, to be built jointly by commercial satellite manufacturer Zhuhai Satellite and Tianjin Xingtong Jiuheng S&T corporation. The constellation will be used for natural resource monitoring, disaster prevention, and other fairly standard EO applications. The first satellite, currently under development, will be sent to 500km SSO next year, and will carry a hyperspectral imaging payload with a resolution of 10m.
This constellation is an interesting example of how government or SOE-led space infrastructure projects are increasingly involving commercial players. If government projects traditionally involved government providers, there are signs that this may be shifting. For this project in particular, the so-called Tianjin Xingtong Jiuheng corporation is actually the company managing the S&T platform of the Geological Survey department of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
On December 4, Beijing Smart Satellite announced the joint establishment of an “Advanced Joint Laboratory for Radar Remote Sensing” with Xidian University, one of the leading institutions when it comes to SAR technology. The lab will contribute to the development of spaceborne and airborne remote sensing technology, and will enable both parties to jointly develop the Silk Road SAR constellation for which Smart Satellite had signed a contract with the city of Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province. You can check out our blog post on the topic to know more about SAR technology.
The Week in Policy & Events
This week saw the publication of an article providing a good summary of Beijing’s space ecosystem and the supporting policies that the city has in place for launch, satellite manufacturing, and ground equipment manufacturing. Companies earning a mention include Landspace, Galactic Energy, Zero Gravity Labs, and Jiuzhou Yunjian. For more info on the Beijing space ecosystem (and in English), check out our Dongfang Hour episode on the topic. 
Other News of the Week
Alibaba subsidiary DAMO Academy (Academy of Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook) posted a job opening for a LEO satellite terminal system and antenna designer this week. The academy describes itself as “dedicated to exploring the unknown through scientific and technological research and innovation.” The role, based in Hangzhou, calls for applicants with a thorough understanding of communication technologies, including phased array antennas technology, design, R&D and production, and to have significant experience in designing satellite antennas and terminal systems. The job offers a pay of RMB 30-60k/month.
Job opening at DAMO Academy
Job opening at DAMO Academy
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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