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31 Jul, 2019 11:20

China’s leading private space startup to ramp up missions after historic launch

China’s leading private space startup to ramp up missions after historic launch

China’s first privately-owned firm to put a satellite into orbit has announced plans to launch up to eight rockets next year, set to deliver satellites and other payloads into space.

Ambitious Beijing-based startup i-Space made headlines last week after launching an ultra-lightweight carrier rocket with a payload into orbit. The first successful commercial orbital mission marked a major milestone for China; the rocket, Hyperbola-1, delivered two satellites into orbit, as well as several experimental payloads.

Inspired by its own success, the company now plans to conduct up to 8 more orbital delivery missions within the next year.

If you don’t have a rocket that can go into orbit, that shows that you don’t have a product. What business model can you speak of then?” Huo Jia, i-Space’s vice president for finance, said in an interview on Tuesday, as cited by Reuters.

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With its first successful launch, i-Space jumped ahead of more than 15 other Chinese space startups. Since late last year, two Chinese firms, LandSpace and OneSpace, have attempted launches but failed. i-Space claims this is due to an “extremely high threshold for orbital launches,” and predicts that only one or two firms in China will be successful in the field within the next five to 10 years.

The company offers its services to both private and government clients, with the price tag for launching a rocket currently standing at €4.5 million ($5 million). Clients from countries, including Singapore, Italy, Spain, and Sri Lanka, are said to have either signed up for a place in i-Space’s upcoming missions or expressed interest in them. This interest is undoubtedly due to the cheap cost of i-Space’s launches. In contrast the launch of the US-made Pegasus, by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, which is a commonly used small rocket, costs up to €26 million ($30 million). SpaceX launches are even more expensive at €51 million ($57 million) per launch.

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i-Space is currently working on Hyperbola-2, the new version of its ultra-lightweight rocket which will be reusable. The company plans to slash the cost by 70%, although admitted it will “definitely” have to complete a large round of fundraising later this year for development.

For China’s private rocket firms, the ability to successfully send a carrier rocket into orbit has become a real test and a major aspiration in the commercial space sector race which began in 2014. Back then, the Chinese government started encouraging private capital investments in the space industry. Two years later the State Council went further, issuing a white paper which called the space industry “an important part of the nation’s overall development strategy.

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