DFH Episode 3 – What’s the Situation with Chinese Private Launch Startups?

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This week is the second part of our two-part series on Chinese commercial launch. For those who missed Part I, a history of Chinese Commercial Launch, check it out here!

Last time we left off at the dawn of China’s private launch era. Having discussed the major state-owned companies and their respective rockets, we will now shift our attention to the plethora of privately-owned launch companies entering the Chinese market today. On today’s episode, we will discuss:

  1. Who are China’s private launcher companies, and what type of rockets are they building?
  2. What is the relationship between state-owned and privately-owned launcher companies in China? 
  3. Who do the private launcher companies hope to sell their services to?
  4. What are some of the similarities and differences between Chinese private launcher companies and their western counterparts?

Some key takeaways:

The launch industry in China is big, and it is surprisingly diverse. As discussed last time, the biggest players in the launch industry in China are subsidiaries of CASC—namely the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), and the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST). These two companies produce all current Long March rockets. With that said, the past 6 years have seen the launch industry become much bigger than just these two companies.

Late 2014 saw the Chinese government publish “Document 60”, which began the process of opening specific industries, including launch, to private investment. Since the publishing of Document 60, we have seen no less than 15 commercial/most privately-owned launch companies emerge in China. Most of these companies aspire to build full rockets, though some have elected to focus on specific technologies, i.e. propulsion systems. 

Indeed, the number of new launch startups is so great, that people within the industry refer to a “First Generation” and “Second Generation” of Chinese private launch companies. Today, we provide a rundown of the companies, their rockets, the challenges and opportunities that they face, and what we might expect from these companies moving forward. 

Sources of interest:

[1] Euroconsult article on the fundraising environment in the Chinese commercial space sector (June 2020)
[2] The rise of Chinese commercial launch companies by Euroconsult consultant Mengti Guo (May 2020)
[3] Expace’s selling a rocket via online auction, by Space News (April 2020)
[4] Chinese commercial launch companies and their “second generation” of launch vehicles, by Space News (October 2019)
[5] China Aerospace Blog discusses China’s commercial launch companies (part 2 of the article can be found here) (September 2019)
[6] The technical choices made by China’s commercial launch companies, article by China Aerospace Blog (April 2019)
[7] ECNS article on Landspace’s rocket manufacturing facility in Huzhou (December 2018)
[8] Interview with Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, about allowing private investors into space (May 2014)

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