Rejected 40 times, suitcases loaded with satellites, China’s commercial spaceflight 6-year metamorphosis to do space “catfish”

Rejected 40 times, suitcases loaded with satellites, China's commercial spaceflight 6-year metamorphosis to do space "catfish"

On July 25, 2019, Star Pride successfully completed the launch mission of the Double Curve I remote one launch vehicle at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, becoming the first private commercial space enterprise to complete a launch vehicle into orbit in China.

“In 2015, I saw a U.S. space satellite weighing about 3 to 5 kilograms achieve 3 to 5 meter resolution on the ground (for photos taken), and this event gave me a big touch.” Ren Weijia, CTO of Tianyi Research Institute, told Xinjing News Shell Finance.

At 20:55 on May 29, 2021, the Long March 7 remote third launch vehicle carrying the Tianzhou II cargo spacecraft was successfully launched at China’s Wenchang space launch site and entered the predetermined orbit precisely. at 5:01 on May 30, Tianzhou II docked precisely in the sky and the core module rearward to the port, the whole process took about 8 hours.

While the country is making great progress in the field of spaceflight, there is a group of astronauts exploring the infinite possibilities of commercial spaceflight. In their view, since the country has “waded through the road” and pointed out the direction of development, how to reduce costs and increase efficiency, how to make the “heavy weapon of the country” in the future closer to society, closer to ordinary people, it is necessary to play a role in commercial space companies.

Recently, Xinjing News shell financial reporter visited four commercial space companies, including Star Glory, Zero One Space, Tianyi Research Institute and JiuTianMeiXing. Some of them were rejected more than 40 times, some of them used suitcases to carry satellites for thousands of miles to catch trains, and some wanted to “save rockets” but found many difficulties.

In six years of metamorphosis, Chinese commercial space companies have found the track and grown. They firmly believe that commercial spaceflight will bring more possibilities to people’s lives than they can imagine.

Rejected 40 times, suitcases loaded with satellites, China's commercial spaceflight 6-year metamorphosis to do space "catfish"

2015: Entry

Rejected 40 times, small and medium-sized rockets + low-orbit satellites constitute a commercial closed loop

At 20:00 on February 5, 2021, the Tianwen-1 probe successfully completed the fourth orbital midway correction of the Earth-Fire transfer segment, and the National Space Administration released the first image of Mars returned by Tianwen-1 simultaneously.

On the same day, Zero One Space OS-X6B new intelligent suborbital rocket “Chongqing Liangjiang Star” was successfully launched at a launch site in Northwest China. The company’s chairman Shu Chang and president Ma Chao did not go to the site, but issued instructions remotely in Beijing and Chongqing, and finally realized the synchronized command of the three places, sending the rocket “remote control” into the sky.

“We picked up a separate signal in Beijing, the entire rocket’s flight attitude can be broadcast live through the live platform.” Zero One Space Secretary Shu Lian told Xinjing News shell financial reporter.

If you go back six years, the founders of Zero One Space might not have thought rocket launches would become so hot in 2021 – the company was registered in 2015 and was among the first private rocket companies to break into the space sector.

What is little known is that long before the company was founded, Shu Chang, founder of Zero One Space, began to talk about the feasibility of private rockets every day with technicians from various segments. After being rejected 40 or 50 times, he determined that there was no technical problem in making rockets, and instead firmly resolved to start his own business.

“The reason we decided to do rocket is very simple, to go to space, rocket is the only entrance, the lifeblood of the industry chain.” Shu Lian said, “Our goal was clear at the beginning of the venture: to target the incremental market of low-orbit microsatellite networking and to do small and medium-sized rockets.”

Rocket launch to complete the commercial closed loop, the largest customer is the satellite company. Ten years ago, thanks to the rapid development of microelectronics technology, relatively single-function but very low cost of research and development of micro-nano-satellite “Cube Star” began to develop at a rapid pace. 2014 to 2015, a group of institutional aerospace people generated the idea of manufacturing commercial satellites, at that time also in the Chinese Academy of Sciences Space Application Engineering and Technology Center, Ren Weijia was one of them.

In 2015, Ren Weijia submitted his resignation and became the CTO of the private satellite company Tianyi Research Institute. “The inspiration to do commercial satellites came from the U.S. small satellites, 3 to 5 kilograms of satellite investment is only a few million yuan, which shows that the cost of a few million satellite began to have a commercial value.” Ren Weijia told reporters.

At this time, the commercial satellite of another entrant, nine days micro star founder Xie Tao also in pulling investment on the road.

Xie Tao entered the space system in 2003, belongs to the “system”. “I have compared the rocket and satellite two directions. Dry satellite is a difficult, seemingly niche thing, but the satellite application is the public.” He told reporters, “We were founded in 2015, when investors thought that how can private companies send satellites and rockets? This is something the state does. Our first year, financing was very difficult, sent BP to two to three hundred institutions, back to the few.”

The turnaround came in 2016. “We were on the verge of losing confidence until after the May Day holiday in 2016, an investor said you come to CSCI and communicate with scientists and engineers about your project. The exchange ended up being very good, and that’s how the angel round was taken.” Xie Tao said.

2016~2017: Tackling the problem

Satellite in a suitcase, commercial rocket launch “not waiting for anyone”

On November 3, 2016, after changing the tickets for five times, Ren Weijia and his group took the high-speed train from Changsha, Hunan Province to Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, with the suitcase in tow, and he had to take another “Old Express” to Lanzhou, Gansu Province, and then to Jiuquan, Gansu Province, to take a car to the rocket launch base.

The luggage is packed, is the new team of TIAS spent more than 10 months to design, develop the micro-science experiment satellite “Xiaoxiang I”, which is based on the cubic body manufacturing a micro-satellite, 6U structure, 8kg or so, only the size of a shoe box.

On November 10, 2016, Xiaoxiang-1 was launched into space on a rocket just before the deadline, but according to Ren Weijia, “the first satellite was successfully sent back to China. “The first star successfully sent back a signal, but it was not in good shape and not as good as expected. But it was still a big gain for us because we went through the complete process from the development to the launch of the satellite, and the team was trained and optimized.”

For the first time, Ren Weijia experienced the difference in pace between commercial spaceflight and institutional spaceflight. As an expert who has participated in missions such as Shenzhou and Tiangong, previous space missions had timelines, but they could be postponed to ensure mission success.

“Once the commercial launch is set to launch time, my satellite can not catch up, people’s rockets go up directly according to the plan, will not wait for me, put on an equal weight load and sent, my launch fee paid as usual, so there is no retreat.” Ren Weijia said. “Xiaoxiang One” is carrying the Long March 11 launch vehicle, still in the “national team” car.

In 2016, although Zero One Space, Blue Arrow Space, Star Pride and other companies have been created, but private rocket companies are still in the arduous process of “exploring the road”.

De Lian Capital once systematically sorted out the private rocket track, “private enterprises do rocket, which is equivalent to repeating what the space system has done since the founding of New China half a century ago, with very large investment and extremely long cycle.” According to Fan Xuesong, investment director of DeLian Capital, it is estimated that private capital to build rockets will cost at least one billion yuan.

“We got our Series A financing in 2016. However, rocket is a big system, involving rocket engines, electrical, structure, ground equipment, etc., which is very complicated, and we need to figure out what the industry chain is really like.” Shu Lian told Shell Finance, “At the very beginning, our idea was to use the national foundation to ‘save’ a rocket.”

The idea was there, but the road was not easy.

“The complexity and difficulty of rockets is mainly difficult because it belongs to a class of ‘giant system engineering’.” Li Yongpeng, director of investment and financing of Star Pride, told reporters, “It involves about 35 to 40 national economic fields such as electronics, materials, machinery, etc. For each iteration of the rocket, all professions need a large-scale demonstration.”

“We found a problem: What is the competitiveness of ‘saving rockets’? The aerospace industry is complete, but not very open. Eventually we decided to develop it independently, and in 2017, we made the rocket’s own engines, control systems and so on.” Shu Lian said.

“2017 was a year of great pressure for Tianyi.” Ren Weijia told reporters, “In the case of the first star is not ideal, we do not have the capital to withstand a second failure. Someone once asked me, “Ren Weijia, what if you fail again this time? I said really then I will resign.”

Although the going was exceptionally tough, the two satellites made by TDI in 2017 were both successfully launched and in good shape. “One of the satellites we launched in 2017 is still operating normally to this day, and from that year on, we started to go steady.” Ren Weijia said.

2018~2019: Flying the sky

Launching rockets is “wading out”, “10,000 people playing a gun”

In February 2018, the first star of JiuTianMeiSing, the 4-kg Junior Star No. 1, was launched by a Long March II launch vehicle in Jiuquan.

“When our first satellite went up, there were already peers who went bankrupt for sending satellites. Our satellite was originally intended for technology verification, but I was thinking about how we could make it carry some applications. The China Soong Ching Ling Foundation made a proposal – to use this satellite for education, so that primary and secondary school students can learn about space and experience in-orbit satellite measurement and control. In this way, our first satellite achieved a closed-loop business from development, launch to application.”

“In the middle of the night after the launch, students from campus stations in Hainan, Anhui, Henan and Guangdong sent reports that the star had just flown over our heads.

Three months later, Zero One Space “Chongqing Liangjiang Star” OS-X rocket in a base in northwest China successfully ignited and lifted off, the company set up a special electronics company, focusing on the development of spacecraft measurement and control communication products, products not only used in their own rockets, but also to domestic aviation, aerospace, weapons and other general institutions to support.

It is noteworthy that 2018 is the debut of private commercial rockets on China’s launch site.

“In the early days, the country did not have a specific regulatory policy for private rockets.” Shu Lian told reporters, “It was not until November 2018, when an official launch vehicle license was issued, that the industry began to have regulation. The road of private commercial rockets, we are ‘wading out’ step by step.”

It is believed that under the top-level strategy of civil-military integration, the country also hopes that the participation of private capital will bring about a “catfish effect” to reduce costs and improve customer service. In this context, the management has issued a series of documents, and launch sites and other infrastructure began to open to private enterprises.

For the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the road to private space projects has not been an “open door”: in 2018, China’s first private commercial launch vehicle “Zhuquan-1” successfully ignited, but the rocket failed after 380 seconds of flight due to an abnormality in the tertiary engine. On March 27, 2019, the OS-M rocket broke down again.

The breakthrough began on July 25, 2019, when the Double Curve One Remote One Chang’an Auchan launch vehicle developed by Star Pride was successfully launched at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which was the first time a Chinese private commercial launch vehicle successfully completed a launch mission and achieved high precision into orbit.

“We like to give an example within our company, that is, the rocket industry is similar to 10,000 people with a gun – 10,000 people with a gun to hit a distant target, any one of them a little deviation will not work.” Li Yongpeng told Xinjing News shell financial reporter.

Star Pride only got its first investment in August 2017, and this company has a clear goal: to start with a solid small rocket and gradually develop a recoverable liquid rocket.

“The successful recovery of the Falcon 9 by Musk SpaceX in 2015 proved the engineering achievability of rocket reuse technology, which brought a big shock to the global space session at that time.” Li Yongpeng told reporters, “Star Pride has been aspiring to develop China’s reusable launch vehicle since its inception.”

“Redevelopment of reusable launch vehicles, this is the next development direction of Star Glory, technically, we are already working on the next generation of rockets.” Li Yongpeng said.

2020~2021: Track

Small steps continue to evolve, targeting trillion dollar market after commercial closure

May 6, 2021, SpaceX Starship prototype for the 5th time to challenge the height of the 10 km class, landing for the first time without an explosion accident. It is understood that the starship uses a large thrust engine fueled by liquid oxygen methane.

At this time, the development of a recoverable rocket belonging to China is also in full swing.

On April 27, 2021, Starship Glory announced that the Focus One reusable liquid oxygen methane engine had successfully completed a 500-second flight simulation test, laying the foundation for the vertical takeoff and landing flight test of a sub-stage of the reusable launch vehicle Double Curve II at the meter, kilometer and 100-kilometer levels.

“We uphold the concept of ‘small steps, rapid iteration and continuous evolution’.” Li Yongpeng introduced, “Spaceflight is a high-risk, high-investment, long-cycle thing, at present, our solid rocket can already meet the launch demand of less than 300 kg, and can achieve commercial closed-loop, our next important node is to complete the reusability of the first sub-stage of the liquid launch vehicle Double Curve II, as well as the launch mission of Double Curve II into orbit. “

After several years of mapping, the domestic private space companies that are currently at the forefront have almost all completed the commercial closure of the loop and have found their own track.

“If the current operational investment and R & D investment, solid rocket, our single-launch launch costs are sufficient to cover the cost, and there is room for further reduction in the future. The reduction of launch cost will be more obvious in the future after the reuse of our liquid launch vehicles.” Li Yongpeng introduced.

“Zero One Space got all the ‘four certificates of military industry’ last year.” Shu Lian told reporters, “At present, we have established a commercial ecology, that is, we continue to do microsatellite launches, while targeting the trillion dollar defense market, doing military products supporting, and then using the experience to feed the rocket development. We expect to start making profits in 2021.”

On April 22, he took the C-band light and small commercial SAR satellite jointly developed by TIARI and the 38th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group (CETIG) with him. “Haisi-1” participated in the 9th World Radar Expo and won the Gold Award of Innovative Product Challenge.

It is understood that the C-band SAR payload of “Haishi-1” and the satellite as a whole is only 185kg, which realizes the direct processing of image data in orbit, and this technical capability was praised by Luis Munoz, the former ESA C-band SAR satellite expert.

“The satellite development process is first led by customer needs, and currently, we deliver satellites in a cycle of between two or three months to one or two years, and general missions can be completed in less than 12 months.” Ren Weijia said.

He told Xinjing News Shell Finance that the main profit point of commercial satellite companies lies in selling services after the satellites are launched into the sky. “Our current satellites are mainly scientific research stars and remote sensing stars, this year we will also have multiple synthetic aperture radar satellites in the sky, the profit from operating a synthetic aperture radar satellite tops the manufacture of several small scientific research stars. The satellite aboard the rocket launch offer is generally around 150,000 yuan per kilogram, we have broken through the break-even point since last year, and now every time we send a satellite is profitable.

In his opinion, commercial remote sensing satellites have many realistic application scenarios. “Because the number of remote sensing satellites available in the sky is so small, the frequency of remote sensing image acquisition is very low, for example, China can only produce a panoramic map once a quarter in a province at present. At present, the remote sensing satellites of TSI are technically capable of taking pictures in the same place with a refresh frequency of 3 days, and can reach within 1 day by the end of this year.”

Rejected 40 times, suitcases loaded with satellites, China's commercial spaceflight 6-year metamorphosis to do space "catfish"

Ladybug 1 satellite completes final assembly.

While Tianyi Research Institute is focusing on remote sensing, Jiutian MSI is looking to communications and doing constellation building services.

“At the end of 2018, we launched seven Ladybird series satellites and completed the system-level validation of satellite IoT. in 2020, we launched the construction of our pulsating satellite factory in Tangshan City, which is expected to be completed and have the capacity to produce 100 satellites per year in June this year. in 2021, we focus on Internet communication satellites and radar satellites, so that the company will gradually have the ability to face the In 2021, we focus on Internet communication satellites and radar satellites, so that the company gradually has the technical capacity for the 6G era satellite network in 2030, and develop industry applications simultaneously.” Xie Tao told reporters.

“In 2021, Jutian MSI has two important nodes: First, the satellite factory will complete the first phase of construction and be put into use. Second, the 200 kg-class Internet communication satellite is delivered for launch. Third, the satellite payload factory in Yibin will start construction on June 30.” Xie Tao said.

Rejected 40 times, suitcases loaded with satellites, China's commercial spaceflight 6-year metamorphosis to do space "catfish"

The future of imagination

Back to the beginning, space tourism “is not a dream”

“Can you imagine that people who are engaged in futures can predict the trend of the economy by monitoring in real time the change in the situation of vehicles in the parking lot at the entrance of the market and the change in the number of ships in the port? If the frequency of remote sensing satellites is enhanced to the ‘day’ level or even to the ‘hour’ level, it will promote a big explosion of potential commercial applications of remote sensing satellites.” Ren Weijia told reporters, “Generally a star is able to take a picture of the same place once in 3 to 5 days, and in the future our goal is to be able to take a picture once an hour, which requires 96 stars.”

“In the next 10 years, satellites will be combined with 5G, industrial Internet and Internet of Things, giving rise to rich application scenarios. For example, satellites carrying 5G payloads can meet broadband communication; carrying cameras can realize global seamless remote sensing. When the Earth is wrapped by thousands of such low-orbiting satellites, the Internet of everything will become a reality, and in the future we may not need to connect to WiFi, from 4G, 5G can directly switch to the satellite Internet, your perception and the Earth or even other planets are integrated together.” Xie Tao said.

Xie Tao predicted that 100,000 satellites should be deployed in near-Earth orbit in the future, of which there may be 50,000 to 60,000 from the United States and 30,000 to 40,000 from China. “Currently only one company, SpaceX, has launched more than a thousand in a year and a half. To achieve the scale of 30,000 to 40,000 satellites, thousands of satellites may have to be deployed every year in the coming years. Then look at the domestic, the current domestic microsatellite annual production capacity of less than 100, so there is still at least 90% gap.”

In Ren Weijia’s view, every satellite is a data rich mine. “We can see all kinds of changes in various places on Earth, and can summarize this information in real time through technical means, and with the progress of big data mining and information processing technology, this information will continue to produce greater value.”

“I think that when the technology for liquid recoverable rockets matures, the cost of access to space will be dramatically reduced. We hope that space manufacturing, space tourism, suborbital travel and other scenarios that once appeared in the golden age of science fiction will become a part of our future life.” Li Yongpeng told reporters.

Shu Lian’s ultimate idea is to bring space into people’s lives, “for example, give you a PAD, you can see any place in the world, we chat and communicate with each other through satellite, no matter where you are, every moment you can feel that everyone is with you. We are doing more TOB and TOG now, and our dream is to turn all these into TOC in the future.”

“To date, Chinese commercial space companies have been in business for about five years on average. Up to now, all the first-tier commercial space companies have formed products launched, which empirically verifies that the team has the technical capability of space R&D. In the process of going from 0 to 1, commercial space companies have become familiar with the full system engineering process, and this accumulated experience is invaluable. It will guide this group of commercial space engineers, who are different from those in the system, to come out of a route of R&D and production belonging to commercial space, and optimize the system engineering theory that has been used for decades in the past. In other words, when the second generation of commercial spaceflight and the third generation of astronautics products are introduced, mass produced and normalized, there will be a leap in the overall capability of Chinese spaceflight.” Ariadne Consulting said in its “China Commercial Spaceflight Development Report 2021”.

By Luo Yidan, Xinjing News Shell Finance Editor Xu Chao Proofreading Chen Diyan

Posted by:CoinYuppie,Reprinted with attribution to:
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