The Year Ahead
Even bigger than last year
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A bit of housekeeping: I’ve been thinking of interesting ways to display all of the information out there about the Chinese space industry. Eventually, I’d like to have something like an interactive database.
In the meantime, I’ve thrown together the stuff from my news roundup segments into a text document that I’m calling (for now at least) the Taikonautica Chronicle.
If you’re interested, keep an eye on that page because I’m going to keep adding bells and whistles, and please let me know if you see anything I’ve missed or gotten wrong.
This week: a look ahead at what to expect in the rest of 2021.
China had an eventful 2020 in spaceflight with 35 successful launches and 4 failures, a sample return mission to the Moon, and the emergence of China’s second private launch company to successfully reach orbit.
Plus, the satellite internet “New Infrastructure” policy from April might end up being the biggest policy shift for China’s commercial space sector since the government began encouraging private investment in 2014 (and all of this in the midst of a global pandemic).
2021 looks to be even bigger.
What I’m Looking Forward to in 2021
This is a huge year for international exploration of Mars:
China’s Tianwen 1 should begin orbiting Mars on February 10 followed by a landing sometime in March
NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to land on February 18
State Owned / Commercial
2021 will be a bumper year for launches, with CASC planning at least 40 attempts. CASC is by far the largest, but not the only, state owned launch company. Those launch attempts will include 3-4 sea launches of the Long March 11. We should also be getting the first launch of the Long March 6A, which is an upgraded version of the Long March 6 and China’s first solid and liquid combination launcher. It was originally scheduled for launch in 2020.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences affiliated CAS Space should be launching its first rocket in September (link in Chinese).
For China’s private launch companies, 2021 will show if iSpace and Galactic Energy can build on their successful launches from the past two years and if challengers like LandSpace can succeed where in the past they have failed.
iSpace’s second launch of the Hyperbola 1 on February 1 was a failure. Hopefully they will make another go of it later in the year. We should also see more progress from Deep Blue Aerospace.
Tianhe (天和), the core module of the Chinese space station, should be launched in Spring 2021. China is hoping to finish construction of the space station, which will be about the same size as Mir, by the end of 2022.
The next space activities white paper, which is one of the policy documents that follows the formulation of China’s five year plans, will probably come out in late 2021. The last one was published on December 27, 2016.
A Constellation Mystery
Hopefully 2021 will bring a resolution to the mystery of the 13,000 satellite constellation. Aerospace consultant Blaine Curcio wrote back in December:
we saw an apparently leaked document outlining a 13,000 satellite broadband constellation to be developed in 2 phases with 7 sub-constellations therein. The constellations are codenamed “GW”, with ITU filings visible under such names as GW-1, GW-S, and GW. While not explicitly mentioned, the project would presumably be led by a state-owned enterprise.
And that’s about all we know for sure. But if, like me, you’re interested in a bit of speculation, the first five minutes of the latest Dongfang Hour podcast is a great place to start. Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville discuss the completion of CASIC’s satellite factory in Wuhan, capable of producing 240 satellites a year.
If you prefer youtube:
They cite a China Daily article:
Plans previously published by CASIC Space Engineering Development said the initial task of the new plant will be to produce small satellites to realize CASIC's Hongyun program, which aims to operate a network of more than 150 communications satellites.
The program, begun by CASIC in September 2016, will establish a satellite system to provide broadband internet connectivity to users around the world, especially those in underserved regions.
The issue is that Curcio and Deville think that it’s likely that the factory will be part of the efforts for the larger 13,000 satellite constellation, so they think it’s odd that the article mentions the Hongyun constellation since that constellation is much smaller.
In the podcast, they discuss the possibility that, if this is related, Hongyun could either be one part of a larger constellation or perhaps Hongyun’s remit will be expanded and Hongyun itself will be the mega constellation. Top of my wish list for 2021 is to get some clarity on the mystery 13,000 satellite broadband constellation.
An interesting looking webinar with the aforementioned Blain Curcio:
Reading the Tea Leaves: Deciphering the Chinese Space Industry
In this unique program, Blaine Curcio and Coralina Guo of Euroconsult will join SSPI to provide their deep insights into the Chinese space sector; its ambitions, the systems in which it operates, and how to build a framework for western stakeholders to best to engage with China as a rising space power.
Students can register free, but there is a nominal fee for members and non-members for this event, and as always the proceeds will go toward the SSPI-MA STEM scholarship fund.
Date: 17 Feb 2021
Time: 7:00pm - 8:00pm EST
January 27: Carmaker Geely invested CN¥4.12 billion ($637 million) in a satellite internet plant in Qingdao.
January 25: The head of Roscosmos said that Russia and China are holding talks for a joint Moon base.
January 21: The opening ceremony was held for the Tianxun (天巡) constellation (link in Chinese) for IoT applications of the Beidou satnav system. Tianxun is to be set up by Shanghai Beidou Satellite Navigation Platform Co, Ltd. Shanghai Beidou (上海北斗) was set up by the Beidou fund and the Shanghai branch of CASC.
January 20: US company Rocket Lab launched a satellite for German company OHB. A photograph released by Rocket Lab indicated that the satellite may have been ultimately owned by Shanghai Spacecom Satellite Technology (上海垣信卫星科技有限公司).
January 20: Space Will (航天世景) announced a partnership with US company Capella Space (link in Chinese).
February 1: The second launch of iSpace’s Hyperbola 1 ended in failure at Jiuquan.
January 29: A Long March 4C launched from Jiuquan carrying three Yaogan satellites, which are believed to be military satellites.
January 20: A Long March 3B launched the Tiantong 1 (03) communications satellite from Xichang for China SatCom (中国卫通), an SOE and subsidiary of CASC.
January 30: LandSpace (蓝箭航天) conducted a 400 second test of its 80-ton liquid oxygen methane Tianque engine. The engine has undergone five tests, totalling over 2,000 seconds, which LandSpace says is 13 times the estimated flight duration.
approx. January 28: LandSpace (蓝箭航天) conducted a fairing separation test for the Zhuque 2 rocket (link in Chinese).
approx. January 27: The Chinese Academy of Sciences affiliated CAS Space (中科宇航) ran a battery of tests on its rocket including engine tests and wind tunnel tests (link in Chinese).
approx. January 21: Deep Blue Aerospace (深蓝航天) conducted structural tests of its Nebula 1 (星云-1) rocket (link in Chinese).
approx. January 15: iSpace (星际荣耀) tested the landing buffers for its reusable Hyperbola 2 rocket (link in Chinese).
approx. December 31: Deep Blue Aerospace (深蓝航天) performed a wet dress rehearsal of its Nebula-M (星云-M) rocket.
January 20: JZYJ (九州云箭) announced a round of funding for an unspecified amount led by Zhongguancun Qihang Investment.
Until next time
My name is Cory Fitz and I write the Taikonautica newsletter. To make you smarter about China’s rapidly evolving space industry, Taikonautica brings you translations of Chinese-language articles, as well as a roundup of links and news.
If you have any questions, comments, or corrections, tweet at me at @cory_fitz or email me at email@example.com.