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The Dongfang Hour Newsletter - Issue #2

The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, with a touch of eccentricity and some attempts at humor. By Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville.

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
In this week’s issue covering May 10-16 2021, we discuss the following:
  1. Landing of the Zhurong Mars Rover on the Red Planet, and some comparisons with the Perseverance Rover from NASA’s Mars 2020
  2. Deal between launch startup Galactic Energy (星河动力) and China Huateng (中国华腾) to help commercialize Galactic Energy’s Ceres-1 rocket in international markets
  3. iSpace (星际荣耀) completes test of its liquid methalox common bulkhead tank for the Hyperbola-2 rocket
  4. CGWIC (航天长城) announces the opening of an office in Phnom Penh to promote BeiDou services in Cambodia and ASEAN
  5. China’s answer to Starlink–China SatNet (中国星网)–announces leadership positions, including Chairman, General Manager, and Board Members
  6. The Government of Guangdong Province publishes “Opinions on Accelerating Digitization”, including some tidbits related to space
  7. The Wuhan Satellite Industrial Park, a CASIC initiative, celebrates the production of its first satellite
  8. OneSpace (零壹空间) kicks off construction of Phase 2 of its Chongqing “Intelligent Rocket Manufacturing Base”
  9. CEO of EO data analytics company Jiage Tiandi (佳格天地) discusses the remote sensing market in China.
  10. Commercial satellite manufacturer Smart Satellite (智星空间)celebrates its third anniversary
1) Landing of the Zhurong Mars Rover
This week saw a daring “7 minutes of terror” as the capsule containing the Zhurong Rover entered the Martian atmosphere and landed the Zhurong Rover on the surface, making China the second country to independently land a rover on Mars. While official updates from CNSA were very limited, we can thank a plethora of amateur or non-official observers, with a special shout-out owed to the great folks at the Bochum Observatory, who gave us hints on the ongoings despite the occasional signal blackout due to the fact that we are communicating with something on freaking Mars.
China's Zhurong Rover Lands on Mars, Galactic Energy Goes International, iSpace's Tank Test - Ep 33
The entry into the Martian atmosphere was quite a perilous one, with a three-stage process, namely 1) atmospheric entry, 2) parachute deployment, and 3) powered descent. A more thorough explanation with excellent visuals is available in the full Dongfang Hour Episode 33 linked above, but in short, you can be sure it was a feat of aerodynamic acrobatics enabled by some incredible data collection and processing.
The Zhurong Rover is the second rover to arrive on Mars this year, with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover (aka Percy) having been hanging around the red planet for a couple of months now. The two missions have many similarities and differences, but probably the coolest distinction is the difference in atmospheric entry styles. In short, while the Zhurong lander carried the rover during the entire landing process, Perseverance was essentially rappelled onto the surface using the aptly-named Skycrane. Amazing stuff.
2) Galactic Energy and Huateng Group Sign Collaboration Agreement
On May 12th, Galactic Energy, one of the leading commercial launch companies, signed a strategic cooperation agreement with China Huateng (中国华腾工业有限公司) to develop the international launch market for Galactic Energy’s launch vehicles. The agreement was targeted on opportunities with the Ceres-1 (谷神星一号) solid-fueled small-lift launch vehicle, which was launched for the first time in November 2020. Interesting update for several reasons.
First, this is one of the first examples of a commercial Chinese launch company taking tangible action to address international markets, and with typically rapid Galactic Energy pace. The company, founded in early 2018, has moved more quickly than perhaps any other Chinese commercial launch company, and the agreement with Huateng specifies a target date of 2022 for their international launch. Impressive speed.
Second, the involvement of Huateng is noteworthy. Huateng is a subsidiary of CASIC, and acts as a sort of international and commercial conduit for a parent company that is both very China-focused, and not very commercial. In short, Huateng is to CASIC what CGWIC is to CASC–they are a sort of international trading company for CASIC’s suite of products and services. By partnering up with Galactic Energy, Huateng is not only expanding its range of products/services to include the Ceres-1 rocket, but more curiously, taking on a partner that, in some ways, competes with CASIC commercial subsidiary Expace.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what role Huateng plays in the commercialization and internationalization of these rockets. For starters, one could imagine Galactic Energy partnering with Huateng would provide the former with more regulatory and financial support, and the latter with more cutting-edge technology.
3) iSpace Completes Test of its Single-Layer Common Bulkhead Fuel Tank
Launch startup iSpace announced on 10 May that they had successfully completed a comprehensive test of their methalox common bulkhead tanks, to be used on the Hyperbola-2 rocket. 
Common bulkhead tanks are a way to make tanks more compact, thus reducing weight and reducing the height of the rocket (which is beneficial for stability). On the other hand it means a bit more structural complexity and also thermal insulation between the two subtanks sharing the same wall. 
In the case of iSpace’s Hyperbola 2, the common bulkhead technology should be a bit easier to manage due to the nature of the fuel and oxidizer used: the boiling point of liquid methane is -161°C, and it’s -183°C for oxygen. This difference of 20°C makes thermal insulation less critical than, say, for liquid hydrogen (with an extremely low boiling point of -253°C). And indeed this is something put forward by iSpace, which claims that there is no thermal insulation between the two subtanks.
The tests performed by iSpace concerned the plumbing systems that go with the tank (pressurizing system, valves, various electronics and sensors monitoring the fuel level and temperature). It included filling and discharging the tanks multiple times (simulating reuse), verification of the rigidity of the structure in the changing (low) temperature environment, and monitoring of the thermal environment with repeated reuse. The completion of this test brings iSpace one step closer to the hop tests of their Hyperbola 2 prototype, which should take place this year.
4) CGWIC Announces an Office in Phnom Penh
Ministry to integrate BeiDou navigation system into transport sector | Phnom Penh Post
As published by the Phnom Penh Post on 12 May, CGWIC plans to open an office in Cambodia before the end of 2021 to help promote the adoption of BeiDou satnav technology in the transport sector in ASEAN. The announcement comes around 6 months after an MoU was signed between CGWIC and an unnamed Cambodian entity related to BeiDou, EO, and road mapping. Interesting update for sure, and not the first time that CGWIC has made inroads into Southeast Asia. In addition to the office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia had also allegedly bought a satellite from China back in 2018 in a ceremony overseen by none other than Li Keqiang. CGWIC also sold the LaoSat-1 satellite to Laos, which was launched in 2015. 
Moving forward, it’s likely that we will see increased activity by CGWIC (and probably Huateng too!) in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and elsewhere in BRI regions. This may be particularly true for projects that require financing–for example, even if a developing country wanted to buy a rocket from Landspace, and even if Landspace was cheaper than a rocket from CALT, a big part of the equation would be whether the China export-import bank, or some similar institution, could finance the project. That being the case, a company like CGWIC or Huateng will almost certainly continue to have access to more preferential financing than commercial firms. 
5) China SatNet Announces Key Leadership Appointments
This week, more light was shed on the leadership of China SatNet, which will (likely) be the country’s national operator of the Guowang broadband super constellation. The distribution of roles would be as follows:
Looking into the background in people composing China SatNet’s leadership gives a lot of useful indications. Zhang Dongchen for example has an engineering background in TT&C, and worked during 20-ish years for CETC’s 54th Institute during which he served as director and then deputy general manager. In 2008 Zhang was named deputy general manager to CEC (China Electronics Corporation), before becoming general manager in 2018.
Yang Baohua also has an engineering background, and has had a long career at CASC’s 5th Academy, also known as CAST. Between 1988 and 2014, he rose ranks, moving from an initial R&D position to deputy director and director of CAST, and then deputy general manager of CASC since 2014.  Finally Li Xiaochun has a strong background at CASIC and CEC, and until recently was deputy general manager of China General Technology Group.
As mentioned in our episode from two weeks ago, China SatNet is directly under SASAC, China’s special commission that oversees the country’s most important SoEs, rather than be a subsidiary of CASC, China’s main space contractor. As we previously hinted at, this could be to grant a certain independence to the super constellation operator in terms of sourcing, among other things. The fact that the company’s leadership is a mix of top-level CETC/ CASC/ CASIC/ CEC people, some of the SoEs most involved in space, is no coincidence, and tends to our theory.
It’s worth noting that there is no one from China Satcom. While China Satcom is a subsidiary of CASC, it would have been likely to see a direct presence of China Satcom people in the leadership if the government wanted the company to play a bigger role in China’s megaconstellation. It looks like this may not be the case.
6) Guangdong Provincial Government Publishes Opinions on Accelerating Digitization"
The Government of Guangdong Province published a document on 13 May entitled “Opinions on Accelerating the Development of Digitization” (广东省人民政府关于加快数字化发展的意见). The document was quite broad, and included discussion on how Guangdong plans to develop ecosystems around technologies such as blockchain, 5G, AI, and so on.
Noteworthily, however, the document also included several points relevant to the space sector. Namely, the Guangdong Government plans to develop satellite communication applications, as well as “focusing on breakthroughs in design and mass production of small satellites”, commercial launch services, satellite ground equipment, satellite operation and other related services in the value chain. 
This development is consistent with our ongoing observation that Guangdong is beefing up its space sector, with CAS having invested heavily into CASSPACE in Guangzhou, and with cities such as Shenzhen creating plans to develop a satellite internet sector. 
7) Wuhan’s Satellite Industrial Park Announces its First Satellite
The recently completed Satellite Industrial Park in Wuhan held a ceremony on May 13 for the successful production of its first smallsat. The Satellite Industrial Park is part of Wuhan’s larger space strategy composed notably of the Wuhan National Aerospace Industry Base. The local government and CASIC have invested massively in this project in recent years, with the objective of making Wuhan a major commercial space hub in China. The Satellite Industrial Park, which began construction in 2019, is reported to be equipped with the latest smart manufacturing technologies for batch manufacturing, enabling an drop in production cycle time of 80% according to local space media China Space News.
The production rate of this manufacturing plant (240 satellites/year, as reported in DFH Episode 17), in addition to the new plants of companies like Commsat, Geespace or Galaxy Space, are suggestive of the massive satellite constellation manufacturing capabilities building up in China. An article from China Daily published in January 2021 also noted that the factory took only 429 days to build, an impressive feat in any case, but even more impressive when considering the fact that Wuhan was one of the most heavily-impacted cities from the Covid-19 pandemic, with lockdowns beginning soon after the factory construction started. 
8) OneSpace Begins Construction of the Second Phase of its Chongqing “Intelligent Rocket Manufacturing Base”
OneSpace kicked off the construction on the second plant of its Chongqing-based rocket manufacturing base, in presence of OneSpace CEO Shu Chang,President of Chongqing Liangjiang Aerospace Industry Investment Group Xiang Yang, and Deputy GM of Chongqing Liangjiang New District Longxing Industrial Park Construction Investment, Zhang Kui. The second plant comes in addition to the first plant completed in March 2019 and with a production of 30 rockets per year (according to OneSpace). The new facility aims at “expanding production capacity and the market opportunities”. Both plants are able to manufacture, assemble, test, and store rockets/rocket parts of the OneSpace launch systems portfolio.
9) CEO of EO Data Analytics Firm Jiage Tiandi Discusses Chinese EO Market
In an interview to 36kr, Zhang Gong, CEO of Jiage Tiandi and former employee at NASA’s Ames Research Center, discussed the remote sensing market in China. Unsurprisingly, he points out that agriculture represents 50%+ of customers needing commercial satellite-based imagery, and that the largest customers at the moment were government departments and agencies (mainly “land surveying and mapping and statistics departments, which output static low-frequency data”). Zhang also points out the competitive advantages of satellite EO compared to UAV-based remote sensing (larger services covered, better cost efficiency per square meter), the importance of data standardization, and accessibility.
10) Smart Satellite Celebrates their Third Anniversary
Smart Satellite celebrates their third anniversary this week. The company is a commercial satellite manufacturer with a focus on EO/SAR technology. The company is most noteworthy for having co-developed a satellite with Ethiopia that was launched last year, and for having a contract with the city of Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province, to build out a constellation of some dozen SAR satellites.
This was the second edition of the Dongfang Hour Weekly China Space Newsletter. If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your kind attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on YouTube, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
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