China’s Suborbital Space Tourism Ambitions Heat Up as Two Companies Seek to Challenge Blue Origin & Virgin Galactic

CAS Space crewed suborbital vehicle in flight. (Credit: CAS Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Two Chinese companies — CAS Space and Space Transportation — are pursuing the suborbital tourism market, with the former closely copying Blue Origin’s fully reusable New Shepard vehicle and the latter developing a winged vehicle that could be adapted for hypersonic point-to-point travel between distant locations on Earth.

CAS Space, a.k.a., Guangzhou Zhongke Aerospace Exploration Technology Co., Ltd., is developing a single-stage reusable rocket that lands under its own power topped with a capsule that descends under three parachutes.

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Successful Launch of PingAn-3 Satellite Empowers Inclusive Finance

HONG KONG and SHANGHAI (Ping An Group PR) — Ping An Insurance (Group) Company of China, Ltd. (HKEx:2318; SSE:601318) announced the successful launch of PingAn-3, also known as Taijing-1 01, Ping An’s first earth observation optical remote sensing satellite. PingAn-3, launched at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, will join Internet of Things (IoT) satellites PingAn-1 and PingAn-2, to support the supply chain financial services of Ping An Bank and the development of inclusive finance.

Due to a lack of loan collaterals and reliable credit information, micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) face challenges in raising funds required for business expansion and production upgrades. It is difficult and risky for financial institutions to review financing applications from MSMEs due to the long industrial chains, numerous cross-regional businesses, difficulties in due diligence, and receivables that are small amounts and high frequency.

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The Past Week in Launches: SpaceX & China Launch Twice, a Soyuz Rideshare and India Falls Short

Small Satellite Launch Vehicle lifts off on maiden flight. (Credit: ISRO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the past week, SpaceX launched 98 Starlink satellites, a Chinese commercial launch provider made it three in a row, Russia launched a rideshare mission with an Iranian satellite aboard, and India’s new small satellite launcher fell just short of orbit.

There have been 103 orbital launches worldwide, with 99 successes and four failures.

Let’s take a closer look at the last week in launch.

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Launchapalooza: 26 New Boosters Debuting Worldwide

Vega-C lifts off on its maiden flight on July 13, 2022. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the first seven months of the year, five new satellite launch vehicles from Europe, China, Russia and South Korea flew successfully for the first time. As impressive as that is, it was a mere opening act to a busy period that could see at least 20 additional launchers debut around the world.

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77 Launches Conducted During First Half of 2022 as Access to Orbit Expanded

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites while the Dragon that will carry Crew-4 to the International space Station awaits its turn. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a busy first half of 2022 that saw 77 orbital launches with 74 successes and three failures through the 182nd day of the year on July 1. At a rate of one launch every 2 days 8 hours 44 minutes, the world is on track to exceed the 146 launches conducted in 2021.

A number of significant missions were launched during a period that saw more than 1,000 satellite launched. SpaceX flew the first fully commercial crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Boeing conducted an orbital flight test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, China prepared to complete assembly of its space station, South Korea launched its first domestically manufactured rocket, and Rocket Lab sent a NASA mission to the moon.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

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Suborbital Spaceflight by the Numbers

New Shepard launches on its 21st flight of the program on June 4, 2022. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Part II of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first half of 2022 was a busy period in suborbital space with 23 launches conducted that did not involve tests of ballistic missiles or defensive systems. Twelve people flew above the Karman line, new boosters and space technologies were tested, and the first commercial suborbital launch was conducted from Australia. And some science was done.

We covered the above mentioned flights in depth in a story published on Tuesday. In this piece we’ll look a broader look at who launched what, when, where, why and on what.

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A Busy Six Months as Suborbital Spaceflight Comes Into its Own

New Shepard lands after the NS-21 flight. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

Part I of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For decades, the suborbital launch sector was largely a backwater. Militaries tested ballistic missiles, scientists conducted experiments, and engineers tested new technologies. A sounding rocket is small potatoes compared with orbital rocket launches and the glamor of human spaceflight. Few people paid much attention.

All that has changed in recent years as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and their billionaire owners — Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — started launching themselves and others on suborbital joyrides. Startups have been conducting suborbital flight tests of new orbital launch vehicles designed to serve the booming smalls satellite market. Suborbital has become a much more interesting sector.

This year has been no exception. The first half of 2022 saw Blue Origin send 12 people into space on two New Shepard flights, a Chinese company conduct six launches in a program to develop aa suborbital spaceplane and hypersonic transport, South Korea and Iran perform flight tests of three different smallsat launchers, Germany test technologies for reusable rockets, and first-ever commercial launch from Australia. And, a great deal of science was done.

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Kuaizhou-1A Rocket Launches Tianxing-1 Satellite

The Kuaizhou-1A rocket made a successful return to flight on Wednesday, launching the Tianxing-1 test satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Chinese media said satellite’s purpose is to research the space environment. Officials released no other details about the spacecraft, which was built by the China Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Mechanics.

Kuaizhou-1A failed during its previous launch in December, destroying the GeeSAT-1A and 1B navigation augmentation system satellite. The solid-fuel rocket, which can launch 200 kg into a Sun-synchronous orbit, has a record of 13 successes and two failures.

Chinese Astronauts Launch, Dock with Space Station

Long March-2F launches the Shenzhou-14 crew to the Tiangong space station. (Credit: Su Dong)

Three Chinese astronauts arrived at the nation’s first permanent space station on Sunday, beginning a busy six-month mission during which initial assembly of the orbital facility will be completed.

Astronauts Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang. (Credit: CASC)

Chinese astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe lifted off aboard the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft at 10:44 a.m. local time (10:44 p.m. EDT on Saturday) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The Long March-2F rocket placed the crew transport into orbit, where they automatically docked with the Tiangong station seven hours after liftoff.

Chinese space station after assembly. (Credit: CASC)

The crew will be on board when the Wentian and Mengtian science modules are launched later this year. The flights will complete the initial assembly of the t-shaped station. The Shenzhou-15 crew will then launch, expanding the station contingent to 6 astronauts, Chinese officials said.

This launch is the 423rd launch of the Long March series of launch vehicles.

China to Launch New Crew to Space Station on Sunday

Astronauts Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang. (Credit: CASC)

BEIJING (CASC PR) — On June 4, the press conference of the Shenzhou 14 manned flight mission announced that, after the research and decision of the General Headquarters of the space station phase flight mission, the aim was to use the Long March 2F carrier rocket to launch the Shenzhou 14 at 10:44 [02:44 UTC Sunday/10:44 p.m. EDT on Saturday] on June 5. The three astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe will carry out the Shenzhou 14 manned mission, with Chen Dong as the commander.

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China Rolls Out Long March-2F Rocket for Crew Launch to Space Station

The Long March-2F rocket that will launch the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft is rolled out to the launch pad. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China has rolled out the Long March-2F rocket that it will use to send a new three-member crew of astronauts to the nation’s space station. The launch of the as-yet unidentified astronauts aboard Shenzhou-14 could take place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China as early as Sunday, June 5.

The crew will spend a busy six months in space during which time China will complete initial assembly of the station. The Wentian laboratory module will be launched in July to join the Tianhe core module. The Mengtian laboratory module is scheduled for launch in October.

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China’s iSpace Suffers Third Consecutive Failure of Hyperbola-1 Rocket

Friday the 13th was an unlucky day for Chinese launch provider iSpace, which saw its Hyperbola-1 rocket suffer its third straight launch failure.

The Xinhua news agency reported the Hyperbola-1 rocket suffered “abnormal performance” after lifting off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 3:09 p.m. Beijing time (3:09 a.m. EDT). The cause of the failure is under investigation, the agency said.

The  Jilin-1 Mofang-01A Earth observation satellite was lost in the failure. It was a replacement for a satellite lost when a Hyperbola 1 booster failed in August 2021. The rocket also failed to orbit unidentified payloads in February 2021.

The four-stage, solid-fuel booster is now one for four in launches since a successful maiden flight in July 2019 for which iSpace became the first private Chinese company to orbit a satellite.

China Launches Two Rockets on Sunday

China launched two rockets with 23 satellite aboard on Sunday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

A Long March 4C launched the L-SAR 01B Earth observation satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The synthetic aperture radar satellite will provide data for land resources use, mapping, forestry, and disaster prevention and relief efforts.

L-SAR 01B joins its twin satellite, L-SAR 01A, which was launched on Jan. 26, Xinhua reported. The spacecraft were built by Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. 

A Long March 8 rocket set a new domestic record for the number of spacecraft launched when it orbited 22 satellites from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan Province, Xinhiua reported.

The spacecraft will be used for commercial remote sensing, marine environment monitoring, forest fire protection and disaster mitigation. The satellites were placed in sun synchronous orbit.

It was the second launch of the Long March 8 rocket. The booster placed five satellites into orbit during its maiden flight on Dec. 22, 2020.

China’s Galactic Energy Launches Ceres-1 Rocket for the Second Time

Artist’s conception of Ceres 1 launch vehicle on launch pad. (Credit: Galactic Energy)

Chinese commercial launch provider Galactic Energy orbited five satellites on Tuesday, Nov. 7, in the second successful flight of the four-stage Ceres-1 booster. The launch took place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.

The successful flight made Galactic Energy the first private Chinese company to successfully launch an orbital rocket for the second time. Payloads launched on this flight included:

Satellite: Baoyun
Purpose: Technology demonstration/Earth observation
Operator: Spacety

Satellite: Lize-1
Purpose: Technology demonstration
Operator: Spacety

Satellite: Golden Bauhinia-1 03
Purpose: Earth observation
Operator: ZeroG Lab/HKATG

Satellite: Golden Bauhinia-5
Purpose: Earth observation
Operator: Starwiz/HKATG

Satellite: Tianjin University-1
Purpose: Earth observation
Operator: Chang Guang Satellite Technology/Tianjin Yunyao Aerospace

Ceres-1, which is also known as Gushenxing-1, uses three solid-fuel stages topped by a fourth stage powered by hydrazine. The booster is capable of launching 350 kg to low Earth orbit or 230 kg to a 700-km high sun synchronous orbit.

Ceres-1 orbited the Tianqi 11 Internet of Things satellite during its maiden flight on Nov. 7, 2020.

China Launches Communications & Technology Demonstration Satellites

Kuaizhou-1A rocket lifts off on Nov. 25, 2021. (Credit: CASIC)

China placed communications and technology demonstration satellites into orbit in separate launches on Thursday and Friday. The successful missions marked the 46th and 47th launches by China in 2021, with 45 successes and two failures.

On Friday, a Long March 3B rocket launched the ChinaSat-1D communications satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The geosynchronous satellite will be used for military communications.

The spacecraft and the launch vehicle were build by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

On Thursday, a Kuaizhou-1A solid-fuel booster launched the Shiyan 11 satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The rocket’s builder, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., did not disclose the purpose of the technology demonstration spacecraft.

The Kuaizhou-1A small-satellite launcher has a record of 12 successes and one failure.