A Beijing-based rocket developer has become the first private Chinese company to successfully send a satellite into orbit.
I-Space, also known as Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd or StarCraft Glory, launched a rocket carrying two satellites on Thursday, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
The successful launch of the Hyperbola-1, or SQX-1 Y1, rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, marked “a new chapter in China’s private commercial aerospace,” the company said in a statement Thursday.
It added that i-Space was “extremely proud … to have witnessed and participated in this historic moment.” The amount the company spent on the launch was not disclosed.
In the past, several Chinese companies have tried unsuccessfully to launch satellites into orbit: Landspace’s 2018 attempt ended in failure, as did an attempt this March by OneSpace, which has only achieved suborbital flight.
But i-Space’s success may indicate a new chapter, as more players enter the market. At the end of 2018, China had more than 100 registered private companies in the commercial space industry.
Private space race
For most of space history, launches have been the work of governments, but private businesses are increasingly breaking ground.
Rocket Lab, a California-based startup, put three satellites into orbit last January, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX, valued at more than $20 billion, has put about 60 internet-beaming satellites into orbit. The company aims to deliver satellite-based internet to populations in areas without the infrastructure for wireless or WiFi service.
In the UK, British billionaire Richard Branson is hoping to take tourists to the edge of space with his Virgin Orbit.
And now China is entering the mix.
“China is just bigger than everyone else — they have more people, they have more engineers, they have more scientists,” said Blaine Curcio, founder of Hong Kong-based space industry research firm Orbital Gateway Consulting, of China’s space ambitions.
“The implication is that, if they keep getting better at scale, they are probably going to be come the leading power at some point. It’s just a matter of time.”
The progress in the private sector comes as the Chinese government is putting billions of dollars into space investment. Earlier this year, China became the first country to send an unmanned rover to the far side of the moon.