China’s Wenchang aims to become commercial space hub

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HELSINKI — A southern city hosting China’s newest, transformative spaceport is pushing to become a hub for commercial and international space activity.

Wenchang International Aerospace City will accelerate efforts to establish a commercial launch site and rocket assembly plants, according to ThePaper.

The efforts aim to put in place infrastructure to allow regular commercial launches by 2024. The Wenchang International Aerospace City project, established in 2020, will consist of three areas, focusing on launch, commerce and industry, and tourism. 

The commercial area seeks to attract space startups and will include rocket and satellite assembly and testing plants and satellite data application centers.

Institutes belonging to China’s main space contractor, CASC, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and other state-entities, as well as commercial launch companies iSpace and Deep Blue Aerospace, have signed contracts to establish a presence in the city.

The city, on the island province of Hainan in the South China Sea, already hosts the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. The coastal spaceport was constructed specifically for launches of large, new-generation launch vehicles to allow China to undertake major space projects. 

Rockets are delivered to Wenchang by sea from Tianjin, north China, circumventing railway networks used to transport smaller launch vehicles to inland launch sites.

Since opening in 2014 Wenchang has hosted 16 launches, including a space station module and cargo missions, a lunar sample return, and the country’s first interplanetary expedition, Tianwen-1

Wenchang also facilitates launches of the Long March 8 rocket for commercial rideshares, and the Long March 7A. The new launchers could replace aging, toxic hypergolic Long March rockets which drop spent stages over land.

New, dedicated launch towers for the Long March 8 could be constructed to allow greater launch cadence, according to the rocket maker, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

Wenchang, which is also part of the Hainan Free Trade Port scheme, hosted China’s seventh national “space day” on April 24. During the event Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), inaugurated an international cooperation center for satellite data and applications, and a data and application center for the BRICS remote sensing satellite constellation.

Chinese precedent and general secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping visited Wenchang Satellite Launch Center April 12, calling for the site to become a world class spaceport.

“I hope you will vigorously carry forward the spirit of ‘Two Bombs and One Satellite’ and the spirit of manned space program, eye the frontier of global space development to meet the major strategic needs of China’s space industry,” Xi said.

Wenchang is currently preparing a Long March 7 rocket to launch the Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft. The mission, expected to launch in early May, would be the first of six launches in 2022 to complete the construction phase of China’s Tiangong space station.

The moves in Wenchang reflect an explosion in Chinese launch plans and space activities. China launched 55 times in 2021, with more than 60 planned this year, including commercial actors. In comparison China made 19 orbital launch attempts in 2015. 

China is also developing sea launch capabilities with facilities at Haiyang in the eastern province of Shandong, a new commercial launch site in Ningbo, and new launch complexes at the national Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.