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DFHour #38: An Avalanche of Funding Rounds 💰🛰️, China's Planetary Defense Ambitions 🌍🛡, 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 17-23 Jan 2022. This week, we discuss China’s Planetary Defense ambitions, along with the potential for 2022 to become the year of the surge of Chinese small satellite production capabilities, China’s long-awaited comments on the recent ASAT test by Russia, and other major updates. You can also check out our weekly episode for more in-depth analysis.
Highlight of the Week: China’s Planetary Defense Ambitions
In an article released on January 17, China exposes its Planetary Defense ambitions, revealing that CALT, CAST and CAS are developing a kinetic method to deflect asteroids with a collision trajectory with the Earth. More specifically, experts from the three institutions have recently proposed to use the final stage of a rocket as a tool to deflect the trajectory of a threatening asteroid. China is planning to invest in exploration missions to better understand asteroids, and to develop information-gathering and other defense-related technologies to contribute to the peaceful use of outer space for the benefit of all mankind.
This announcement follows the launch of the first Planetary Defense test mission by NASA two months ago: the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft was launched into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in late November 2021. The mission consists of making the spacecraft collide with an asteroid (which does not represent a threat to Earth), in order to alter its trajectory, thereby enabling the collection of valuable data to improve the US’ Planetary Defense strategy and capabilities. This method of deflection through kinetic impact is the one being developed by China.
Planetary Defense is, needless to say, an extremely technical endeavor - but it is also highly symbolic. The probability of an asteroid, big enough to cause significant damage to the Earth and its inhabitants, possessing a collision trajectory with our planet is relatively (if not extremely) small, yet preparing for such an event requires massive investments. It hence significantly contributes to international prestige. If the US is by far the world leader in the domain, Planetary Defense may well constitute yet another realm of competition between the US and China. 
China’s Planetary Defense Ambitions
China’s Planetary Defense Ambitions
The Week in Launch
Satellites from MinoSpace and CGSTL are bound for the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan, for launch on a Long March-8 planned for February 2022. The launch will reportedly also include satellites from Spacety, ADASpace, and Guodian Gaoke, in a context of a growing trend for rideshares in China. The LM-8, with ~4.5 tons to 700km altitude and high levels of flexibility, is a great tool for rideshares and batch launches of smallsats to LEO, and may end up being a commercial LEO constellation workhorse for CASC. 
A new version of the LM-8, which may be the LM-8A (which is to launch all the commercial satellites mentioned above), was just delivered to Hainan. Whereas the LM-8 is a 2 stage rocket with 2 strap-on boosters, CASC posted on Weibo a couple days ago (see picture below) that the new version would be a different configuration with no strap-on boosters. As the LM-8 was also planned to be China’s first reusable Long March rocket (using VTVL), the question of which of the two versions will be made reusable remains. We will have to wait until late February/early March to know more, as this is when the launch of this Long March 8A is scheduled. Last week saw the first launch of 2022, with the Shiyan-13 satellite launched from Taiyuan, aboard a Long March 2D developed by SAST. The satellite was built by Shanghai Microsatellite, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). As always with Shiyan satellites (aka experimental satellites), little is known about its objectives - except that it will be used for “space environment detection and related technology experiments”.
A new version of the LM-8 getting ready for rideshare launch in late Feb/early March, via CASC's Weibo Account
A new version of the LM-8 getting ready for rideshare launch in late Feb/early March, via CASC's Weibo Account
Moving on to commercial companies, we also saw two rounds of funding, for JZYJ, Deep Blue Aerospace, and Galactic Energy. First, commercial rocket engine manufacturer Jiuzhou Yunjian raised more than ¥100M in a round of financing with investors including Yunhe Capital, Huaying Capital, Pufeng Venture Capital, etc. The funding will be used to accelerate the company’s development of a reusable liquid methalox engine. As a reminder, JZYJ as an engine manufacturer is a supplier to China’s other launch companies, and they have already signed deals with Linkspace and Rocket Pi for rocket engines. The press release noted that JZYJ has signed a total of nearly ¥100M in contracts with 10 customers. 
Secondly, commercial launch company Deep Blue Aerospace announced a “nearly ¥200M” A-round of funding, coming primarily from private VCs with some limited connections to provincial governments. The funding is expected to go towards the development of the company’s Nebula-1 liquid-fueled rocket, as well as their Leiting-5 engine, and will also include R&D into areas such as 3D printing. 
Last, but certainly not least, Galactic Energy announced that over 2 rounds in 2021, the company had raised a truly massive ¥1.27B, which in addition to being ~US$200M, is also perhaps not coincidentally just a bit larger than the ¥1.2B each raised by Landspace and iSpace in 2020 (the previous biggest funding round). For a deeper dive into Galactic Energy, check out our interview with Liu Hong, one of the company’s Systems Engineers, from late last year.
Turning to space tourism, Space Transportation revealed, in an interview, its plans for the development of its space plane. The company is planning to complete technology verification before 2023; to develop and test a suborbital space tourism space plane between 2023 and 2025, and finally to develop and test a highly hypersonic, manned point-to-point transportation space plane between 2025 and 2030. An ambitious timeline for an ambitious company!
Space Transportation's plans for the development of a space plane
Space Transportation's plans for the development of a space plane
Lastly, the Pleiades-1B high-res satellite captured new shots of Jiuquan, showing progress in the construction of LandSpace’s new launch site and… a Zhuque-2 rocket on the launchpad. The shots were shared by Tweeter account Harry Stranger. Space News also shared an animated view of progress at Jiuquan in images by Planet Labs.
The Week in China’s Space Program
Last week, the China Manned Space Agency released an impressive high-res footage of the CSS shot by the robotic arm cameras.The Tianhe core module is shown floating around the Earth, of which we can see the peaceful-looking oceans and clouds. An enchanting video, constituting a valuable break from everyday reality. 
Special view of Earth from the robotic arm of Tiangong Space Station (CSS) (CNSA Watcher)
Special view of Earth from the robotic arm of Tiangong Space Station (CSS) (CNSA Watcher)
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
Will 2022 be the year of the surge of Chinese smallsat production capabilities (and therefore the dawn of Chinese megaconstellations)? Three major announcements with regards to commercial smallsat manufacturing this week seem to indicate that it may be the case.
First, commercial satellite manufacturer Galaxy Space, focusing on smallsats for broadband communications, announced the completion of their batch satellite production line, shipping out of 6 broadband LEO smallsats from their factory (scheduled for launch in Q1 on a Long March 2C). These 6 satellites will form the “Small Spider Web” constellation, which will enable 30 minutes of uninterrupted connectivity at a time for the user on the ground (on the orbital plane), according to a press release. 
Secondly, CGSTL, an EO satellite operator and manufacturer based in the northern city of Changchun, rolled out an additional 10 satellites out of its manufacturing base. CGSTL is a spin-off of the Changchun Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics, and operates a remote sensing constellation called Jilin-1 which can be considered to be China’s equivalent of Planet Labs. It already has 31 satellites in orbit, soon-to-be 41 with these 10, and plan to have their constellation reach 138 satellites over the next 4 years.
And finally, another commercial smallsat manufacturer, Minospace, announced that they had rolled out and shipped 5 remote sensing smallsats from their factory. The satellites will be used for maritime EO as well as “ship signal acquisition” (probably referring to AIS), and are scheduled for launch in February. All that, put that together with the manufacturing capabilities of other commercial players in the field coming to fruition in 2021, means that we could very well see a significant jump in smallsat manufacturing in 2022, and consequently in satellite deployment. You can check out our weekly episode for a more detailed analysis.
Will 2022 be the Year of Massive Chinese Satellite Deployment?, A New Variant of the Long March 8
Will 2022 be the Year of Massive Chinese Satellite Deployment?, A New Variant of the Long March 8
In an interview on Changchun News, Jia Xuezhi of CGSTL, revealed plans for a second constellation. The first is composed of 138 satellites, having a revisit time of any location of 9 to 11 times per day – hence constituting a high temporal and spatial resolution constellation. The next constellation would consist of 160 “sub-meter-level optical satellites to form a network, with the ability to cover the global surface once a day”. Both constellations are scheduled for completion during the 14th FYP (2021-2025). 
Lastly, this week saw Spacety announce a strategic investment from the the Anhui Artificial Intelligence fund. This round of funding takes place in the context of the collaboration between Spacety and CETC38 (Tianxian constellation), mentioned in the article. The first satellite of the constellation, the Chaohu-1, has been shipped to Wenchang. Chaohu-1 was designed to be batch produced for the Tianxian constellation (as opposed to the Haisi-1, which served as a SAR demonstrator). During the week, we also saw some images released from Spacety of the Tonga volcanic eruption taken from the company’s Haisi-1 SAR EO satellite. 
Other News of the Week
On January 21, the US announced sanctions against three Chinese space companies and their subsidiaries, on the ground that they are engaging in missile proliferation activities. The companies are the 1st Academy of CASC, the 4th Academy of CASIC as well as Poly Technologies (保利科技有限公司) - a subsidiary of China Poly Group Corporation, supervised and managed directly by SASAC. The companies will not be able to access US markets, among other restrictions. At a press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian denounced the sanctions as an act of bullying, claiming that China has “always opposed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery”.
Lastly, Tuesday this week saw a near-miss between a Chinese satellite and a piece of debris created by last year’s Russian ASAT test. As reported by China Space News (中国航天报), the CNSA’s Space Debris Monitoring and Application Center issued a warning on Tuesday of a rendezvous between the Tsinghua satellite and piece of debris number 49863, with the report saying that the objects may have come within 14.5 meters. A later report in SpaceNews quoted Jonathan McDowell as staying that the 14.5 meters was a meaningless number due to China having not quoted any level of uncertainty, but the point remains, there was an apparently close encounter. 
This comes just a few weeks after we learned that the Chinese Space Station had to make evasive maneuvers following a close encounter with two Starlink satellites, and also comes about 2 months after China’s “no comment” towards Russia’s ASAT test, which created the debris in question. Moving forward, as low earth orbit gets more crowded, there will clearly be instances where China’s ambitions clash with other space powers - both friends and foes.
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