by Douglas Messier
iSpace, aka, Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., has become the first private Chinese company to launch payloads into orbit.
The company launched its four-stage Hypobola-1 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Thursday afternoon local time.
iSpace reported the rocket deployed the CAS-7B amateur radio satellite and a technology verification satellite for China Central Television. Three additional payloads remained attached to the upper stage as planned.
It was the first successful orbital launch for the company, which has previously flown suborbital Hyperbola-1S and Hyperbola-1Z rockets in 2018.
iSpace beat two Chinese commercial companies to orbit. Landspace’s orbital attempt failed in October 2019, and OneSpace’s launch in March 2019 also went awry.
Hyperbola 1 is 20 meter (65.6 foot) tall rocket with a mass of 31 metric tons (34 tons). The booster is capable of placing payloads weighing 300 kg (661.3 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO) and 150 kg (330.6 lb) into a 700 km (435 mile) sun-synchronous orbit.
iSpace completed a series A round of fundraising in July 2018 that brought the total amount raised last year to 600 million yuan ($90 million). The round was led by Matrix Partners China.
Although iSpace and its competitors are private companies, they are receiving support from the government. iSpace’s boosters are produced by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which is the main contractor for the Chinese space program. SASTIND, the government entity that oversees the space sector, is also providing companies with funding.
The Chinese government is eager to compete for a share of the booming small satellite launch market. More than 100 companies worldwide have announced they are developing boosters for this market.
iSpace and its domestic are likely to be limited on the international market by restrictions many countries place on launching their satellites on Chinese boosters due to fears of technology transfer and theft.
The successful launch was the third straight success for iSpace. In April 2018, the company flew its suborbital Hyperbola-1S rocket to an altitude of 40 km (29.85 miles).
Last September, iSpace successfully launched its suborbital Hyperbola-1Z suborbital booster with three payloads aboard from Jiuquan.
The 9-meter (29.5-foot) tall, single stage solid-fuel rocket reached an altitude of 175 km (108 miles) and deployed the payloads. One of the payloads parachuted back to Earth, media reports say.
iSpace has plans to expend beyond solid-fuel boosters. The company’s two-stage Hyperbola-3 booster will be a reusable liquid-fuel rocket designed to lift two metric tons (2.2 tons) to LEO. iSpace is planning an inaugural launch in 2021.
The company has also announced plans for a reusable space plane to serve the suborbital tourism market.