Startup wants to develop cargo services for the Chinese space station - Start Up Gazzete
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Startup wants to develop cargo services for the Chinese space station


HELSINKI – A Chinese startup aims to develop spacecraft capable of supplying China’s space station, with a first small demonstration launch scheduled for 2022.

Beijing-based InterSpace Explore signed an agreement on August 4 with Chinese private launch firm Galactic Energy for the launch of the returnable Zengzhang-1 demonstration satellite on a solid Ceres-1 rocket in 2022.

A day later, Interspace Explore, full name Beijing Interstellar Development Technology Co., Ltd., raised tens of millions of Chinese yuan (¥ 6.48 per dollar) from investment firm Innoangel Fund.

The Zenghang-1 (Growth-1) satellite will have a launch mass of around 350 kilograms and will return a payload of more than 100 kilograms, according to Chinese media.

Interspace Explore founder Fu Shiming, a former employee of the state-owned spacecraft manufacturer China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and a member of the Tiangong-2 space laboratory project, told a news conference that spacecraft are essential to human use of space resources and have enormous commercial and military value.

Fu added that the development of spacecraft by private companies can complement the national space economy and provide efficient solutions for the utilization of space resources.

The firm’s current research and development focus is on low-cost small cargo spacecraft. Fu also identifies potential clients in pharmaceutical and space breeding companies.

The cooperation agreement with Galactic Energy came one day after the failure of the solid iSpace Hyperbola-1 rocket. Galactic Energy plans two Ceres-1 launches in the coming months.



Chinese commercial cargo


The development is an apparent response to a January call for proposals issued by China’s human space flight agency CMSA, requesting low-cost cargo transportation solutions for the Chinese space station. The announcement was the first indication that the national space station project would be open to commercial companies. The move can be seen as similar to NASA’s previous commercial cargo initiatives.

The main requirements for cargo delivery include a payload capacity of 1 to 4 tons, the ability to remove and deorbit the station debris to avoid space debris, and that transportation costs are in line with international levels. To return the cargo to Earth, the requirements are that a 100-300 kilogram payload with the returning spacecraft be easily tracked and recovered.

The scheme aims to complement Tianzhou’s large cargo delivery system and build a “flexible, efficient, diverse and low-cost cargo transportation system.”

The large 13,000-kilogram Tianzhou spacecraft is the only spacecraft China has to carry cargo and propellant in low-Earth orbit for its space station. A Long March 7 rocket is currently en route to Wenchang, Hainan Island, to launch the Tianzhou-3 mission in mid to late September ahead of the Shenzhou-13 manned mission.

Space Pioneer, a Chinese launch startup, singled out space station supply missions as an ambition when closing a funding round last month.

China has extensive experience, including recoverable Fanhui Shi reconnaissance satellites that used impregnated oak to survive re-entry. The country also successfully delivered lunar samples to Earth with Chang’e-5 last December.

CAST has been developing a returnable spacecraft called the Space Workshop, previously scheduled for launch in 2020-2021. In 2016, China launched the recoverable Shijian-10 satellite that facilitated a series of space life science experiments and more.

China’s national military-civil fusion strategy is understood to help facilitate the transfer of technologies for commercial use and has been a factor in the rapid development of China’s nascent commercial space sector.

Author avatar
Joshua Smith

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