China’s first private rocket launch kicks off the country’s commercial space race

China held the country's first rocket launch by a private space flight company this week. OneSpace Technologies, based in Beijing, launched its OS-X rocket from an undisclosed location on a suborbital trajectory on Wednesday, reaching a reported height of 25 miles and traveling about 170 miles before returning to Earth. It is the first demonstration of what the company says will become a scalable business built around sending small satellites into space.

So far, China's space industry has been dominated by the government space agency, the National Space Administration of China (CNSA). The agency has sent satellites, scientific missions and even people to space. He also put robots on the Moon, placed two space stations in orbit and has big plans for the next few decades.

After approximately half a century of a national space program, China also decided to bring private enterprise into space. President Xi Jinping made a particular priority for the country in 2012, when he said he wanted China to become a "space flight superpower". And in 2014, the Chinese government formally allowed private companies to start working to launch satellites.

OneSpace is the first Chinese private company to launch a rocket, and has big plans. The company's CEO, Shu Chang, told the state news channel China Daily that he expects OneSpace to become "one of the largest small satellite launchers in the world" and plans to make 10 launches in 2019.

Shu also compared the company to SpaceX in an interview with CNN Money. It is a comparison that other points of view have drawn, but that is not completely confirmed. On the one hand, OneSpace is using a different technology. While Shu says the company plans to eventually build rockets capable of lifting larger (and potentially human) satellites in space, its current rocket is only 30 feet tall and can only carry about 220 pounds in orbit. That's less than half of the 70 foot height of the first SpaceX rocket, Hawk 1, and well below the height (230 feet) and lifting capacity (more than 50,000 pounds) of its current rocket, the Falcon 9. OneSpace also uses solid rocket fuel, which is generally more stable and easier to build, but it means that the booster rockets can not be reused; SpaceX, meanwhile, uses liquid fuel and recovers its rockets after launch.

Shu told CNN that "this is the first rocket developed and built entirely with local technology", but the output noted that it previously worked for a "state-owned aerospace company". It was reported that OneSpace was founded. with money from the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, and this particular flight was paid by the Aviation Industry Corporation, state-owned China, according to Quartz . And the other name of the rocket (the "Star of Chongqing Liangjiang") is a nod to the Investment Group of the Aviation Industry of Chongqing Liangjiang, with which OneSpace is partnering to build a base of research and manufacturing that will be part of the Chinese government's Belt and Road massive initiative.

However, OneSpace is emulating SpaceX by straddling the private line and government funding. While the Elon Musk space flight company is private, it has benefited greatly from several NASA contracts over the years, as it has built up its commercial customer base, including one that essentially saved the company from a collapse. early in 2008.

Still not clear if OneSpace will shake the small satellite market. There is a hurried competition that specifically targets the launching of small satellites, from large corporations such as Virgin to small startups such as Rocket Lab, to pillars such as Orbital ATK, all of which try to seize a global business of almost half a billion dollars.

It is also unclear if satellite companies in the United States or other Western companies could even buy a vehicle with a OneSpace rocket. The US government UU It imposes strict controls on the export of satellites, which until a few years ago were still classified as weapons. "Chinese rockets are not an option for US companies," says a spokesman for Planet, one of the world's leading land-based satellite operators, The Verge .

OneSpace already has a lot of competition at home to deal with, too. The relaxation of the restrictions in 2014 has led to the creation of approximately half a dozen new space flight companies, all of which seek to launch satellites, while the government's space program looks toward bigger and bolder projects such as a permanent space station and a ambitious robotic mission of Mars in 2020.