Apstar-6C satellite will be launched in 2018 aboard a Long March 3B rocket (above). Credit: Xinhua

JERUSALEM — China’s launch-vehicle manufacturer, frustrated with a longstanding U.S. government ban on the export of U.S.-built satellite parts to China, is designing a rocket that could be launched outside China for commercial missions so long as such missions are consistent with any regulations that apply to the parties involved.

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) said it had started negotiations with authorities in Indonesia, Sweden and Tanzania about hosting the Naga-L rocket, designed to appeal to owners of small satellites headed to low Earth orbit. It was not clear how advanced these discussions are.

In the case of the Esrange facility in northern Sweden, now used to launch stratospheric balloons and suborbital sounding rockets, any orbital launch capability likely would be closely scrutinized by neighboring Norway and Finland.

The two-stage Naga-L, based on components used for heavier-lift versions of China’s Long March rocket family, will be capable of placing a 600-kilogram satellite into an 800-kilometer polar low Earth orbit, without using an orbit-raising stage, when launched from Indonesia, CALT’s Haoliang Yang said here Oct. 14 during the 66th International Astronautical Congress.

The rocket’s basic version will be priced at $10 million per launch, Yang said.

For the past 15 years, the U.S. government has banned the export to China of U.S.-built satellites and satellite components, using the  International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as the enforcement mechanism.

The ban was originally designed as an attempt to slow development of China’s missile technology by crippling its rocket-launch program. Human-rights issues in China have also been used as an argument for maintaining the prohibition, first instituted in 1999.

The ban has not stopped development of China’s Long March vehicles. Two new versions have been introduced this year and China’s 2015-2025 space development plan foresees 100 launches during that period, just for China’s domestic demand.

With U.S. parts embedded in most telecommunications satellites, the prohibition has, for the most part, kept China out of the global commercial launch market except for nations that have elected to purchase a Chinese-built satellite along with a Long March rocket.

Unable to import satellites, China now wants to export a rocket.

“We will respect and obey the ITAR laws and would be happy to export this vehicle all over the world with the understanding that we would meet all the regulations defined in ITAR,” Yang said. “Additonally, we’d be happy to provide this commercial launch vehicle to the market.”
A first launch of the two-stage Naga-L, from China, is planned for 2017, he said.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.