Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)

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Chinese Startup iSpace Launches Suborbital Rocket

Hyperbolic XQS-1X rocket (Credit: iSpace)

Chinese commercial launch provider iSpace successfully launched its Hyperbola-1Z suborbital booster with three payloads aboard from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday at 1 p.m. local time (0500 UTC), according to media reports.

The 9-meter (29.5-foot) tall, single stage solid-fuel rocket reached an altitude of 175 km (108 miles) and deployed the three suborbital payloads. One of the payloads parachuted back to Earth, media reports say.

In April, the company launched the suborbital Hyperbola-1S rocket to an altitude of 40 km (29.85 miles).

iSpace completed a series A round of fundraising in July that brought the total amount raised to 600 million yuan ($90 million) in 2018. The round was led by Matrix Partners China.

The company has plans to develop an orbital satellite launcher as well as a space plane.