I-Space has become the first company from China to successfully launch satellites into orbit. Previously, Chinese companies like LandSpace and OneSpace tried to launch satellites, but failed.
The rocket, Hyperbola-1, measures 65.6 feet in length and was designed by I-Space. After launching from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia, the rocket released two satellites into near-Earth orbits. Hyperbola-1 is a 4-stage solid-fuel rocket that can carry a payload of up to 660 pounds. The rocket is so versatile that it can be launched once every week.
The satellites are owned by the Beijing Institute of Technology and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation. In addition, the company stated that the mission carried a classified payload that has military purposes. I-Space has developed a 2-stage liquid-fuel rocket that has 6 times the payload capacity as Hyperbola-1. Plus, a winged-vehicle that can be used for near-space tourism is apparently ready. I-Space is said to have five more launches scheduled before the end of 2020.
I-Space now joins Elon Musk’s SpaceX as one of the few companies to have successfully put satellites into orbit. Though the private space industry in China is not as mature as it is in the U.S., many experts predict a boom in the coming years. “China is just bigger than everyone else – they have more people, they have more engineers, they have more scientists… The implication is that, if they keep getting better at scale, they are probably going to become the leading power at some point. It’s just a matter of time,” Blaine Curcio, founder of Hong Kong-based space industry research firm Orbital Gateway Consulting, said to CNN.
According to estimates, annual revenues from space-related businesses currently stand at US$350 billion, a number that could triple by 2040, according to investment firm Morgan Stanley. Given Beijing’s plan of making China a world leader in technology, the state is expected to provide huge support to homegrown space companies. With Virgin Group and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin planning to make suborbital spaceflights soon, the private space industry could see some intense growth. If Western governments fail to give their space companies the kind of support that Chinese companies get from their government, space superiority might be lost to communist China.
Bringing down space assets
Recently, China brought down two of its space assets. On July 31, China’s lunar orbiter Longjiang-2 (DSLWP-B) crashed into the Moon’s surface. Sent to space in May last year, the instrument orbited the Moon for 437 days before being brought down. The move was apparently planned since January this year, as the orbiter had exceeded its original 1-year lifespan.
“There is a new crater on the Moon… We are already 5 minutes past the moment DSLWP-B would’ve appeared from behind the Moon if it had not crashed. The fact that we are no longer receiving signals means it has impacted the lunar surface. RIP DSLWP-B,” Cees Bassa, an astronomer, said in a tweet.
Earlier, the Tiangong-2, a small space station owned by China, was also moved out of orbit and eventually burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Launched in 2016, the station spent 1,000 days in space. China will replace the Tiangong-2 with a new space station in the next two to three years.