Launch towers at Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The complex is being expanded to facilitate a new generation of rockets.
Xichang Satellite Launch Center is being expanded to facilitate a new generation of rockets. Credit:

HELSINKI — A group of space industry entities have formed a China commercial space alliance to help promote and regulate the country’s burgeoning private space sector. 

The China Commercial Space Alliance was launched at a Dec. 11 ceremony in Beijing. The alliance was created by six groups including units under the state-owned defense and space contractors the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). The China Space Foundation and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are also involved.

The new collaborative body is a response to the rapid growth of private aerospace companies following a 2014 government decision to open areas of the space sector to private capital.

Chinese state media report that the alliance has four main roles. These are to strengthen policy advocacy and carry out industry research, promote innovation and upstream and downstream integration of the industrial chain, assist in regulation, and promote international cooperation. The latter aspect is to focus on countries related to the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. 

The China Commercial Space Alliance will operate under the guidance of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The move is a further sign of support for commercial space companies supported by private capital. In June China released a set of rules to guide the development of commercial launch vehicles.

According to Chinese publication Future Aerospace there were 141 registered commercial aerospace companies in China at the end of 2018.

Around 20 firms now engaged in developing launch vehicles or their components including Landspace, OneSpace and iSpace.

There are also numerous satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, with other areas seeing activity including ground segment and space resource utilization.

Xichang launch complex expansion

The Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, has hosted 13 launches, making it both the country’s and the world’s busiest spaceport so far in 2019.

Wang Zemin, deputy director of the launch center, told Xinhua Monday following launch of a pair of Beidou navigation satellites that the complex will aim for 20 launches in 2020. Xichang is able to handle a launch every 16 days.

In addition a new launch pad for next-generation rockets is currently under construction at the center. 

China is preparing  to debut the new Long March 8 in 2020. It is a kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket designed to launch a 5 metric ton payload to Sun-synchronous orbit. It is derived from Long March 7 first stage and Long March 3B upper stage technologies.

The new launcher will also be the first Chinese test of vertical takeoff, vertical landing capabilities for an orbital launcher. An animation of the landing sequence suggests the two side boosters will attached to the first stage. 

This development could help ease the danger of debris falling downrange. A recent Long March 3B launch from Xichang resulted in a home being destroyed by a spent booster. Xichang would need new facilities in order to launch kerolox rockets. Its existing pads are used to launch older, hypergolic Long March rockets.

China is leading the global launch charts for a second year in a row. Following the successful Long March 4B launch of the China-Brazil CBERS-4A remote sensing satellite and eight passengers late Thursday, China had launched 33 times in 2019.

The most consequential Chinese launch this year will be of the Long March 5, expected Dec. 27. The second-placed U.S. has 27 launches, including Rocket Lab missions from New Zealand.

China will once again aim to launch over 30 times in 2020. 

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for GBTIMES and SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.