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DFHour #33: Growing Pains for Expace, Updates on Geely, Rocket Pi's Fundraising, and a Happy Holidays! 🚀 🎄 🕎

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 13-19 Dec 2021. This week we were reminded that space is hard, as Expace saw its KZ-1A rocket fail for the 2nd time in 14 attempts. At the same time, the depth of Chinese space that we referred to in last week’s newsletter was fully on display, as Rocket Pi–the ~25th Chinese commercial launch company–raised some tens of millions of RMB in new funding. A lot of ongoings in this busy December!
Expace's Kuaizhou-1A Rocket Fails for the Second Time, Rocket Pi Launches a Microgravity Platform
Highlight of the Week: Failure of the Kuaizhou-1A a setback for both Expace and GeeSpace
Tuesday 14 December saw Expace fail in its 14th launch attempt of its Kuaizhou-1A small, solid-fueled rocket. This was the second failure in 14 tries, and the third failure overall for Expace following its unsuccessful Kuaizhou-11 launch last year. The payloads–GeeSAT-1A and GeeSAT-1B, were the first two satellites in the GeeSpace enhanced navigation constellation, a project being developed by auto manufacturer Geely.
After the failure, the Kuaizhou-1A now has a reliability of ~86% (12/14), which is not very different from comparable rockets (Electron from Rocket Lab is 20/23, i.e. 87%), but is still a major setback for China’s most well-funded, and arguably least-commercial commercial launch company (remember that Expace is effectively a wholly-owned “commercial” subsidiary of CASIC, via CASIC’s own subsidiary Sanjiang Group).
If the first failure of KZ-1A, back in September 2020 is any indication, we may not hear from Expace for awhile: following their 2020 failure, the company went ~1 year without another launch.
The lost payloads were two GeeSpace satellites that had been waiting to be launched for ~1 year. The automaker Geely has put a lot of eggs into its space program basket, investing up to RMB 2.27B (US$356M at current exchange rates) into a satellite manufacturing facility in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province. The company had expected to test these two satellites for various technologies in advance of a broader rollout of their constellation. These plans will now be set back a little ways.
Ultimately, the launch failure is likely to have a bigger impact on Expace than on GeeSpace, particularly as commercial launch companies begin to ramp up capacity. While Expace jumped out to a huge lead among China’s new generation of launch companies, with 9 successes in its first 9 KZ-1A attempts, the company is now staring down the barrel of a rapidly developing Galactic Energy, Landspace, Deep Blue Aerospace, and others.
Expace clearly still holds a lead among commercial launch companies in successful launches, but it is beginning to look like the “more commercial” players are better-incentivized to move faster and play somewhat safer. Only time will tell!
Expace's Kuaizhou-1A before a previous successful flight (May 2020). Credit: Expace
Expace's Kuaizhou-1A before a previous successful flight (May 2020). Credit: Expace
The Week in Launch
In addition to the Kuaizhou-1A launch failure, we did see some successes from Chinese commercial launch this week. This included two updates from Rocket Pi, one of the more recently-founded Chinese commercial launch companies (December 2020). First, we saw the company raise “tens of millions of RMB” of funding in an “Angel +” round, with the money coming from the “Hainan Hundred Billion Investment Fund” (海南千亿投资基金), as well as municipal investment funds from the city of Suzhou.
During the week, Rocket Pi also saw its commercial microgravity platform, the Sparkle-1, launch on a suborbital Huayi-1 rocket provided by the extremely stealthy Shaanxi Huayi Hongda (陕西华羿鸿达). The launch reached an altitude of 250km, and the microgravity levels obtained were 0.0001g. The telemetry parameters were normal, and the biological payload was working normally. Rocket Pi noted in a separate article that they expect more Sparkle-1 launches in 2022, including with Shanghai Jiaotong University and Ruijin Hospital.
Seemingly related to the support from Suzhou Government, we also note that Rocket Pi recently moved its HQ from Huzhou to Suzhou, with the company apparently setting up a rocket integration facility in Suzhou to complement its Beijing and Shanghai offices, both of which will be focused on R&D. This is but the latest example of a Chinese launch company setting up a rocket integration facility near a major body of water, which we speculate will mean a lot of rockets being integrated in the facilities and shipped by sea to coastal launch sites in Hainan, Ningbo, and Yantai.
Other launch companies setting up near the water include Space Pioneer (moved to another part of Suzhou in April 2021) and Deep Blue Aerospace (moved to Nantong last year), with both Suzhou and Nantong being very near the mouth of the Yangtze River that feeds out into the East China Sea. We have also seen CAS Space set up in Nansha, Guangzhou, just next to the mouth of the Pearl River, and oSpace and Galactic Energy, both having recently set up in Yantai, near an up-and-coming coastal launch facility. Compared to the launch industry of old, which involved far inland launch sites, this new dynamic is quite different.
On the topic of CAS Space, we saw this week an interview with company General Manager Hu Xiaowei, who gave some insights on the company’s Guangzhou rocket facility. The facility is expected to enter service in August 2022, and will be able to produce 30 rockets per year. Notably Hu alluded to rockets being shipped from Nansha to Hainan by sea.
Finally, a fascinating deep-dive interview was conducted with Kang Yonglai, CEO of Space Pioneer, and Zhu Xiaocheng, Partner at InnoAngel Investment. During the interview, the two discuss the Chinese space sector from the perspective of a longtime executive (Kang was previously CTO of Landspace) and a major investor (Zhu has championed InnoAngel investment into multiple Chinese commercial space companies).
Ceremony from last week at Haiyang, Yantai, where oSpace, Galactic Energy, and Jiutian Xingge
Ceremony from last week at Haiyang, Yantai, where oSpace, Galactic Energy, and Jiutian Xingge
The Week in China’s Space Program
Long Lehao hinted at the first launch of the Long March 5DY (aka the 921 lunar rocket) before 2026, and crewed lunar missions before 2030, in an interview with CCTV. The octogenarian rocket scientist is not an official spokesperson for the space program, and he has a tendency for ambitious statements, so this should be taken with a grain of salt, especially given that the Chinese-Russian ILRS timeline does not specify human missions to the moon by 2030.
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
The Tianlian-2-02 satellite was launched on 14 December, with this the 2nd satellite in China’s 2nd generation of Tianlian. The relay constellation is used for, among other things, relaying information between the Chinese space station and the earth, via geostationary orbit. A fun fact: the previous Tianlian-2 satellite was launched on the 301st Long March launch, while this 2nd Tianlian-2 satellite was on the 401st.
Commercial satellite operator ADASpace participated at an event at the Sichuan Satellite Internet Innovation Center this week. The Center was established in November 2020, and appears to combine support from the Chengdu Municipal Government (Chengdu being a city of ~15 million), the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and commercial companies such as ADASpace.
The Week in Satellite Applications
This week saw Huawei apply for a patent for satellite communication networks. The patent is for a method by which user terminals can receive signal sent by satellite, and notably, more efficiently shift between satellites. It seems that such a patent would have significant applications for LEO constellations that would require user terminals to be switching between many satellites.
We also saw APT Mobile Satcom Shenzhen publish an article about Apstar-6D entering the civil aviation market with Ku-band HTS capacity. Not much we didn’t already know, but a very cool graphic of the satellite’s coverage overlaid with air traffic routes, shown below.
Apstar-6D spot beam coverage (blue) with air traffic routes (yellow). Source: APT Mobile Satcom Shenzhen
Apstar-6D spot beam coverage (blue) with air traffic routes (yellow). Source: APT Mobile Satcom Shenzhen
The Week in Policy & Events
The Shenzhen Branch of the MIIT announced this week a “Satellite+” solicitation order, which aims to develop opportunities in the satellite manufacturing and application industries. Industries of emphasis, and which are eligible for significant government subsidies, include “smart” everything, such as agriculture, logistics, emergency response, and transport. Others include satellite internet, early warning systems, and IoT.
The week also saw the Euroconsult World Satellite Business Week, held in Paris. While not very China-focused, the event did see several Chinese companies in attendance, often via European subsidiaries or virtually. This included Satellite Herd, Spacety, and HEAD Aerospace, among others.
Other News of the Week
China’s first ever sounding rocket base (T7M) in the Pudong District of Shanghai will be converted into a space-themed history and amusement park. The 56 acre park will include a “space cultural complex”, areas for science and technology education, and “patriotic education” facilities.
We also saw an interesting article published by Chinese logistics company SF Express about their transporting a test EO satellite 3,889 km over 5 days to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The company highlighted the complexity of transporting satellites as a way of indicating the quality and reliability of their shipping services.
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