HELSINKI — An orbital launch attempt by Chinese startup iSpace failed on Friday morning, following two failures last year.
The fourth Hyperbola-1, a four-stage solid rocket, lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 3:09 a.m. Eastern Time on May 13.
Apparent launch pictures appeared on a Chinese social media site shortly after its launch, but a period of silence followed, extending well beyond when a similar launch could have been declared successful.
The failure was confirmed by Chinese state media Xinhua four hours after launch. The teams investigate the specific reasons for the failure.
Apparent liftoff of the fourth Hyperbola-1 solid rocket from iSpace in Jiuquan a few minutes ago.https://t.co/GAJpAgkWnz pic.twitter.com/lYZEIwCUCe
— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) May 13, 2022
The mission was the 16th orbital launch attempt from China in 2022. It was the first launch not relying on a Long March rocket and the first failure.
The loss of what was to be a new remote sensing satellite for a commercial satellite developer and operator will be a blow to iSpace’s plans.
Beijing-based iSpace has become the first Chinese company outside the traditional state-owned space sector to successfully launch a satellite into orbit in July 2019. The company suffered two subsequent bankruptcies in February and August from last year though.
The company is also developing the much more complex solution Hyperbola-2, a larger liquid methane-oxygen launcher with a reusable first stage. It secured $173 million in funding in August 2020 to accelerate its development.
Vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) trials had been planned for 2021 following progress made with trial metalox motors and software, grid fins and landing leg rollout, but updates have been sparse in recent months.
Hyperbola-2 will likely use the same new launch infrastructure recently built in Jiuquan to facilitate the Zhuque-2, another metalox launcher developed by rival Landspace. This rocket could make its first launch attempt in the near future.
Landspace and iSpace will face competition in liquid and reusable launch services from competitors, including Galactic Energy, deep blue aerospace, space pioneer and the re-emergence Link space.
Chinese solid pitcher efforts
Hyperbola-1 is part of a wave of new Chinese light risers strong launchers to boost the country’s overall space capabilities, but the record has been uneven so far.
While the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s leading space contractor, successfully operates the 11 Long March from indoor locations and a sea platformKuaizhou-1A and Kuaizhou-11 rockets developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) and its subsidiaries remain on the ground after failures in 2021 and 2020 respectively.
Landspace abandoned plans to operate the Zhuque-1 solid-state rocket after its single launch and failure in 2018, while OneSpace has not attempted another orbital launch since its only attempt in 2019.
Galactic Energy, established after the first commercial movers mentioned above, succeeded with both launches of its Ceres-1 rocket and plans a third around July. CAS Space, spun off from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is preparing for its first mission, using the ZK-1A designed to carry up to 2 metric tons of payload to LEO, which would be the largest solid rocket of China when it lifts leave in June or July. CASC spin-off China Rocket has launched a Jielong-1 (“Smart Dragon”) rocket and plans to launch the larger Jielong-3 in the second half.
Development of China’s commercial space
The Chinese government has sought to foster commercial space ecosystems beyond the CCAC-dominated state sector through incentives, policy support, and a national military-civilian fusion technology transfer strategy. The moves are seen as a response to the earlier rise in commercial space activity in the United States in the form of SpaceX and others. The latest failure adds pressure on future launches to ensure success.
A policy change in 2014 opened up part of the space sector to private capital, with major fundraisers is now becoming more and more common.
Policy frameworks, support for new infrastructure, including “satellite internet” and cities and other areas seeking to attract innovative, high-tech space companies to drive growth has supported the emergence and growth of hundreds of space-related companies in areas around launch, satellites and applications downstream, and have seen the formation of a number of space industry clusters and pilot areas in China.
Previous reports noted that China sees a role for these companies in establishing a communications megaconstellation in low Earth orbit and in achieving trade missions to and from the Chinese space station Tiangong.
CASC and subsidiaries of its sister defense giant CASIC recently unveiled the mass production of small satellites abilitieswith a production capacity of hundreds of satellites per year.
For now, China will be looking to see which of the range of new hopefuls of launch service providers can offer the reliability.