HELSINKI — OneSpace of China failed to become the first private launch firm to place a satellite in orbit after loss of its OS-M1 solid launch vehicle Wednesday.
Launch of the OS-M1 four-stage rocket, also named ‘Chongqing · Liangjiang Star,’ took place at 05:39 a.m. Eastern from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.
Amateur footage from the launch site shared on a Chinese social media platform indicates loss of control of the launch vehicle shortly after first stage separation around one minute after launch.
OneSpace was still investigating the cause of the launch failure at press time.
The 19-meter-tall, 20 metric ton OS-M1, which was designed to be able to loft a 205-kilogram payload to 300-kilometer low Earth orbit (LEO), was carrying the Lingque-1B technology verification satellite for ZeroG Labs, a Beijing-based developer of micro- and nanosatellites and components established in late 2016.
Lingque-1B was a 6U CubeSat which aimed to test technologies for ZeroG Lab’s planned named Lingque (‘spirit magpie’) constellation of 132 remote sensing satellites with a resolution of better than 4 meters.
In a Q&A with SpaceNews ahead of launch, OneSpace expressed excitement at the opportunity to become the first private Chinese company to reach orbit, but also noted in the case of failure, the launch would be a “valuable attempt for us — to correct our technology.”
The company carried out two successful suborbital launches with its OS-X rockets in 2018 before Wednesday’s orbital launch attempt.
Chinese private space launch attempts
Landspace, another company established following a 2014 government decision to open the launch and small satellite sectors to private capital, made the first private Chinese attempt to reach orbit last October, but the launch failed when the Zhuque-1 solid rocket suffered an issue with its third stage, with the payload for China Central Television (CCTV) falling into the Indian Ocean.
Beijing-based Interstellar Glory, also known as iSpace, are currently preparing for their first orbital launch attempt which could come as soon as next month, also from Jiuquan.
The launch vehicle will be the Hyperbola-1, a 1.4-meter diameter, 20-meter long launcher which uses three solid stages and liquid fourth stage, capable of delivering up to 150 kilograms of payload to a 700-kilometer-altitude SSO.
Lan Tianyi, founder of Ultimate Blue Nebula Co., Ltd., a Beijing-based space consulting company, noted in an email to SpaceNews ahead of the mission that the past and upcoming launches from this first wave of private Chinese launch companies indicate strong overall capabilities in the emerging launch sector.
“All three companies are all signing commercial payloads on their first launches,” Tian notes, showing that, “the Chinese market is open enough about the private sector’s launch vehicles.”
The speed of the development of launch vehicles by private companies in China has been accelerated by a civil-military integration national strategy, facilitating the transfer of restricted technologies to approved firms in order to promote innovation in dual-use technology.
“The line between ‘civil’ and ‘military’ is markedly different in China than the US or the rest of the Western world,” says John Horack, the Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy at the Ohio State University, noting also that NASA and the Defense Department have many previous and ongoing collaborations.
“All activities have some complement of military and civil interests, and depending on the particular matter, one may find a greater or lesser emphasis on one or the other,” Horack says of China’s space industry, adding that, “civil and military space activities occur on more of a spectrum than across any defined boundary.”
“One should not, however, assume that because an organization is described as a ‘private company’ in China, that they are entirely free of governmental or military engagement, or that this engagement is completely on their (the ‘private’ company’s) terms,” Horack told SpaceNews.