by Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville
As part of the partnership between SpaceWatch.Global and Orbital Gateway Consulting we have been granted permission to publish selected articles and texts. We are pleased to present “Dongfang Hour China Aerospace News Roundup 29 March – 4 April 2021”.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News Roundup! A special shout-out to our friends at GoTaikonauts!, and at SpaceWatch.Global, both excellent sources of space industry news. In particular, we suggest checking out GoTaikonauts! long-form China reporting, as well as the Space Cafe series from SpaceWatch.Global. Without further ado, the news update from the week of 29 March – 4 April 2021.
1) Significant week from Chinese commercial launch companies: Landspace, iSpace, JZYJ, CAS Space
This week saw a lot of updates from Chinese launch companies, confirming that 2021 is going to be a landmark year in Chinese space.
- First and foremost, we saw Landspace, one of China’s leading commercial launch companies, test its TQ-11 methalox engine for 4000s, its longest run so far (more than 1 hour!). This follows a batch of tests which included: simulating different regimes of flight, mixing ratios, autogenous pressurization & thrust vectoring. The TQ-11 is the engine that will be powering the upperstage of the ZQ-2 small to medium lift reusable (at some point) rocket.
- iSpace, a Landspace competitor and also one of the leading private launch companies, tested its Jiaodian-1 liquid methalox engine during a 500s test, throttling the engine significantly (50%-100%) to simulate vertical take-off vertical landing. The Jiaodian-1 powers iSpace’s Hyperbola-2 reusable rocket second stage (15t thrust). The Hyperbola-2 will perform a first “hop” some time this year according to iSpace.
- JZJY similarly did a first hot fire engine test for their Longyun engine, which the 80t methalox 1st stage rocket engine developed by the company, and aims to be reusable multiple times. JZYJ is at an earlier stage compared to iSpace and Landspace; this test seems to be one of the first hot fire engine tests, aiming at verifying that the gas generator (“secondary circuit”) works well with the rest of the engine. This being the case, JZYJ can move to more in-depth hot-fire tests in the future.
Worth noting, JZYJ is the engine manufacturing providing the engines for Linkspace’s RLV-T6 VTVL prototype (although it will use the lighter Lingyun engine, not the Longyun engine).
- CAS Space trialed a small 23kg VTVL prototype for future sea-based launch and landing. The test was mostly about testing the flight control characteristics: stability, robustness, horizontal and vertical movements. In an interview, Lian Jie of the CAS Institute of Mechanics Spaceflight Technology Center claims that the results were very promising, and CAS Space was expecting to decrease the cost of launch by 30% through VTVL, and launch cycles by 50% due to sea launch.
Also worth noting, the test took place in Shandong, China’s main launch base for sea launches, and from which the Long March 11 sea launches have taken place so far.
Couple of small notes to add–JZYJ continues to power along. Also recall a couple of weeks ago during the announcement of 火箭派, the company noted that they had an agreement for JZYJ for the Lingyun engine. Add this to their ¥100M round of funding from February, and you have an excellent Q1 for JZYJ.
Landspace’s video was well-done. In addition to being simple, it showed a hell of an engine doing some very cool stuff. Added nice touches included the casual “around 1 hour later” message before showing the engine still running as it was before. We seem primed for a major 2021 indeed for the Chinese commercial launch sector.
That being said, we have one final launch update this week, coupled with a few other pieces of space news bundled into a story from the city of Wuhan, in Hubei Province. Jean, what’s happening in Wuhan?
2) TV Report from Hubei News on Wuhan space projects, and exclusive takeaways for Xingyun and Expace
Let’s start with the less groundbreaking news here: the update on launch. The report refers to the heavy investment made by Expace, CASIC’s commercial launch spin-off, in building a digitalized industrial plant for batch-manufacturing Kuaizhou rockets, with cool shoots of 4 Kuaizhou rockets being assembled. The production rate of the factory is designed for 20 Kuaizhou rockets a year. The upcoming Kuaizhou-1A launch should be called Xinzhou, named after the district in Wuhan where the factory is located.
Perhaps more interesting (while slightly bizarre), the report mentions Expace’s liquid-fueled rockets, and notably that the “new digital facilities, which will enter service in the second half of 2021, will enhance Expace’s R&D capabilities for liquid-fueled rockets” (!). We indeed know from last year that liquid-fueled rockets is something that Expace has been looking at, with multiple screenshots of a “Kuaizhou-2” rocket family coming up.
On Xingyun, CASIC’s commercial narrowband constellation, some interesting updates came up as well in the report. Notably:
- Xingyun VP Zhang Yong confirmed that a next batch of 6 Xingyun-3 satellites would be sent into orbit before the end of the year, on-board a Kuaizhou-11 rocket. This actually may represent a slight slip in the timeline previously announced at CCAF and in other conferences in 2020, where it was said that LeoBit, the operator of Xingyun, would launch 2×6 satellites into orbit.
- Interestingly, the satellites are called Xingyun-3, meaning they are a 3rd generation of Xingyun satellites. Compared to the previous generation Xingyun-2 (2 satellites sent into space on-board a KZ-1A LV in 2020), the Xingyun-3 have “very significant technological upgrades”, and each individual satellite can “can “serve up to 750 000 terminals, compared to 320 000 for previous versions”.
- This is admittedly self-serving speculation, but I believe Xingyun is of increased importance now relative to Hongyun and Hongyan, due to the clear acceleration of Starlink/the massive upgrade in the size of the LEO megaconstellation business. Xingyun, being a sort of Chinese Iridium, which is to say, a Chinese version of a constellation that is already in orbit, and that has a decent business (albeit one that did require one bankruptcy to get there). Digressing, it’s a rose-tinted lens way of looking at it, but it’s possible that the significant upgrades implied by the name “Xingyun-3” represent increased importance of the Xingyun system.
One other small point on Expace, and the Wuhan National Aerospace Industry Base more generally–the level of digitization and automation employed at the various factories may prove a sort of testing ground for CASIC’s CASICloud industrial IoT service offering. That is, if these companies are using various CASIC digital infrastructure from day 1, and doing very hard, technologically rigorous things, it could be a good use case to highlight as a selling point of CASIC’s products.
One final note–it’s possible that it’s just me, but the virtual exhibition from the 2020 CCAF (just a few months ago) appears to be back online (on CASICloud, of course). It seems to be limited to Chinese, but a treasure trove of information for anyone speaking Mandarin.
Additional reading on the Wuhan aerospace base: here
3) Geely plans group-level space headquarters in Nansha, Guangzhou
Geely announced a couple days ago it would establish space activities in the southern city of Guangzhou, in Nansha district.
First of all, this is big. Geely is not just “setting up some space subsidiary”: this is Geely, a hundred-billion RMB revenue group, establishing its entire commercial space division headquarters in Guangzhou Nansha (将商业航天总部布局广州南沙).
The new entity, called Shikong Tansuo, would operate all Geely space subsidiaries: Geespace, Shanghe Aerospace, Xingkong Zhilian, and also interestingly SpaceOK (!).
Basically satellite manufacturing, terminals, and constellations RocketSatelliteSatellite antenna
Definitely worth noting as well, this is a significant win for Guangzhou and more generally South China’s space industry. The area’s space activities are underwhelming compared to other regions such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Xi’an.
This south China strategy of Geely closely tails Chinese Academy of Sciences space-related entities (including launch startup CAS Space), which moved in massively in 2020. Exciting times for Guangzhou and Chinese space.
Surprising and interesting to see Space-OK seemingly integrated into the Geely Space portfolio of companies. As we have mentioned on previous DFHour episodes, the General Manager of GeeSpace’s Taizhou operations, Wang Yang, comes from Space-OK, and the hire was seen as an indication that Space-OK’s operations may have been starting to wrap up.
Another point that was mentioned by Twitter user Ilya Kharlamov was that there will be excellent transport between Nansha and Wenchang. As you can see, Nansha is located just on the Pearl River Delta, basically the mouth of the river just as it flows out into the South China Sea. You can see Nansha district in blue below:
The location on the South China Sea could be strategically important for another location–Wenchang. It’s a pretty direct shot from the PRD to the eastern side of Hainan Island, and at around 600ish km, not too far of a trip. It’s not clear to what extent the rocket/satellite activities in Nansha will indeed be linked to Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, but an interesting point.
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News Roundup. If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your kind attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on YouTube, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
Blaine Curcio has spent the past 10 years at the intersection of China and the space sector. Blaine has spent most of the past decade in China, including Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Beijing, working as a consultant and analyst covering the space/satcom sector for companies including Euroconsult and Orbital Gateway Consulting. When not talking about China space, Blaine can be found reading about economics/finance, exploring cities, and taking photos.
Jean Deville is a graduate from ISAE, where he studied aerospace engineering and specialized in fluid dynamics. A long-time aerospace enthusiast and China watcher, Jean was previously based in Toulouse and Shenzhen, and is currently working in the aviation industry between Paris and Shanghai. He also writes on a regular basis in the China Aerospace Blog. Hobbies include hiking, astrophotography, plane spotting, as well as a soft spot for Hakka food and (some) Ningxia wines.