The country’s first commercial space industry base will be built in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, according to an agreement signed on Monday.
The Wuhan National Space Industry Base will focus on the development of carrier rockets and satellites, commercial launch services and applications of satellite data.
The base plans to establish an annual production capacity of 50 carrier rockets and 140 commercial satellites by 2020, said Zhang Di, deputy head of the Fourth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, after a signing ceremony between his company and the governments of Hubei and Wuhan at the Second China Commercial Aerospace Forum.
More than 700 government officials, military officers and experts from the space industry and universities attended the forum in Wuhan.
In mid-February, the Fourth Academy set up the nation’s second commercial launch provider, Expace Technology Co, as the backbone of the Wuhan space base, with Zhang as the new company’s chairman.
The company, which has registered capital of 300 million yuan (US$44.9 million), has signed a 100 million yuan launch contract with several domestic clients, Zhang said. He declined to give clients’ names due to business confidentiality.
He added that Expace has received orders for more than 10 launches using the academy’s solid-fuel Kuaizhou, or Fast Vessel, rockets.
“In fact, orders have been continuing to swarm into our company, but we have to reject some of them because we must guarantee a good service quality,” Zhang said. “We don’t worry about orders because our rate, around US$10,000 for each kilogram of payload, is much lower than the average charge in the international market, which ranges from US$25,000 to US$30,000.”
In China, a commercial launch generally refers to a space launch activity paid for by an entity other than a Chinese government department or military agency.
China has launched 53 Long March rockets to carry 61 satellites into space for 24 foreign clients.
However, all of these commercial missions were undertaken by the country’s Long March rockets, which were developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, another major contractor in China’s space sector.
Because of different mission requirements, the Long March series, which mainly uses liquid propellant, has heavier launch capacities and longer flight ranges.
China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp began to develop Kuaizhou solid-fuel rockets in 2009, intending to form a low-cost, quick-response rocket family for the commercial launch market.
The first flight of a Kuaizhou rocket occurred in September 2013, when the company launched the Kuaizhou 1 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province to put an Earth observation satellite into orbit. In November 2014, the Kuaizhou 2 sent another satellite into space from the same launch center.
The Fourth Academy is now making the Kuaizhou 11 and plans to launch it in 2017, according to Liang Jiqiu, chief designer of the Kuaizhou programat the Fourth Academy.
Liang said the Kuaizhou 11 has a lift off weight of 78 metric tons and will be capable of placing a 1-metric-ton payload into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 kilometers, or a 1.5-metric-ton payload into a low Earth orbit at an altitude of 400 km.
He said the road-mobile rocket’s prelaunch preparations will take very little time, and the launch can be conducted on rough terrain.
Gao Hongwei, chairman of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, said the Kuaizhou rockets have a high level of strategic importance and a huge market potential.
He said investments in the commercial launch sector bring a return of up to 14 times the original input.
Hu Shengyun, a senior rocket engineer at the Fourth Academy, estimates that by 2020, the market value of commercial space activities in China will reach 30 billion yuan annually.