This article originally appeared in the April 8, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
Chinese startup Linkspace succeeded with a vertical takeoff and landing test late last month on the same day fellow private launch firm OneSpace failed to reach orbit with its OS-m rocket. Also that week, two other Chinese companies declared success with engine tests as they push to develop new launch vehicles.
Linkspace Aerospace Technology Group, a firm which has focused on developing a reusable launch vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing since its founding in 2014, carried out on March 27 a low-altitude, untethered launch and landing test of a 8.1-meter-tall, 1.5-metric ton tech demonstrator rocket.
The RLV-T5 rocket reached around 20 meters in altitude before hovering and performing a powered descent onto a circular landing pad emblazoned with the words “Welcome to Earth.”
Linkspace aims for a full test flight of the NewLine-1 orbital launcher capable of carrying 200 kilograms to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) in 2021, having previously targeted 2020.
OneSpace, meanwhile, released a preliminary report on its failed first orbital launch, which also took place March 27.
According to the company, a velocity gyroscope on the second stage of the four-stage OS-M rocket failed after 45.68 seconds, leading to loss of attitude control and mission failure.
OneSpace CEO Shu Chang told Chinese media shortly after the launch the company would not give up and aims to carry out another OS-M launch as well as two or three OS-X single-stage suborbital launches before the end of the year.
It was the second failure by a Chinese commercial launch company seeking to reach orbit, following the Zhuque-1 launch by Landspace Technology Corp. in October.
Landspace power pack test
Landspace, a private company founded in 2015, performed a successful test of the power pack for the Tianque-12 (TQ12) 80-ton thrust liquid-methane and liquid-oxygen rocket engine at a facility in Huzhou on March 25.
The power pack is a key component of a rocket engine that includes turbopump, valve and ignition components along with the gas generator.
The test data “fully demonstrated the reliability of the design solution and stability in product performance,” Landspace told SpaceNews. A full system test of the TQ-12 engine is scheduled for May.
The TQ-12 engine will power the medium-lift Zhuque-2 launch vehicle, which will measure 48.8-meters tall with a diameter of 3.35 meters and be capable of delivering a 4,000-kilogram payload capacity to a 200-kilometer low Earth orbit and 2,000 kilograms to 500-kilometer SSO.
Landspace claims the launch vehicle will be the first Chinese rocket powered by methalox propellant and will, upon its test flight expected in 2020, have the third-highest thrust level among commercial aerospace companies globally.
Beijing-based iSpace also announced progress on a methalox engine the last week of March, with successful joint tests of a turbopump and secondary systems for a 15-ton thrust engine named JD-1, to be used for a two-stage, 2.5-meter-diameter, 38-meter-tall launch vehicle.
Named Hyperbola-2, the launcher will be capable of lifting 1,900 kilograms to LEO and will have a maiden flight after 2020.
The startup, also known as Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., is preparing for its first orbital launch which, if successful, would make the firm the first Chinese private entity to launch a satellite into orbit.
The Hyperbola-1 is a 1.4-meter diameter, 20-meter long launcher that uses three solid stages and liquid fourth stage and is designed to deliver up to 150 kilograms of payload to a 700-kilometer-altitude SSO. It is expected to launch from Jiuquan by mid-2019.
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.
More than 10 companies focused on the development of launch vehicles or their components have been established since 2014.
Newcomers such as Galactic Energy, S-Motor and Jiuzhou Yunjian have been able to attract private capital despite the relative progress and head start enjoyed by OneSpace, Landspace, Linkspace and iSpace.
Last month, China Aerospace Blog last reported that a firm founded in August 2018 and roughly translated as ‘Space Transportation’ has received backing for a new concept launch vehicle.
The article cites an announcement from Source Code Capital which suggests it has provided the company with ‘tens of millions’ of Chinese yuan in angel round funding, indicating backing worth several million U.S. dollars.
Space Transportation aims to develop a reusable launcher which utilizes gliding and parachute systems rather than retropropulsion.