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World

AFP
May 18, 2018

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Chinese private firm launches first space rocket

BEIJING: A suborbital rocket was launched into space on Thursday by a start-up in China’s burgeoning commercial aeronautics industry, as private firms snap at the heels of their dominant American rivals.

OneSpace, the Beijing-based company behind the launch, is one of dozens of Chinese rivals jostling for a slice of the global space industry, estimated to be worth about $339 billion by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and currently dominated by SpaceX and Blue Origin in the US.

Its nine-metre "Chongqing Liangjiang Star" rocket took off from an undisclosed test field in China’s northwest and reached an altitude of 273 kilometres before falling back to Earth, the company said in a statement.

The launch aimed to demonstrate an early working model of the company’s OS-X series of rockets, designed to conduct research linked to suborbital flights. By the end of the decade OneSpace expects to build 20 of the OS-X rockets, which would be capable of placing a 100-kilo payload into an orbit 800 kilometres from the Earth’s surface, said company spokesman Chen Jianglan. The firm is also developing another type of rocket, the M-series, to compete in the growing microsatellite sector.

These small satellites are typically no larger than a shoebox and are used to monitor crops, weather patterns or disaster sites or used by universities for research purposes, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.

Microsatellites are cheaper to build and easier to deploy than traditional truck-sized versions and their launch has become increasingly an lucrative market, currently dominated by the Indian space programme.

Chinese aerospace start-ups were eschewing the space travel ambitions of their US rivals to compete for these lucrative microsatellite contracts, said McDowell. OneSpace’s work has attracted the attention of several domestic and foreign clients, Chen told AFP, adding that "a number of satellite companies in Europe and Asia have approached us to establish strategic partnerships".

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