Internet & Tech

Private launch

China’s equivalent of SpaceX


Chongqing Liangjiang Star

He bills himself as China’s answer to Elon Musk and last week, Shu Chang achieved his ambition of leading the first Chinese company to launch a privately developed rocket. Well, sort of.

Shu’s company, OneSpace Technology, is behind the 30-foot Chongqing Liangjiang Star rocket, which made its maiden flight last week, reaching an altitude of 273 kilometres before returning to earth.

Some might say a rival firm, Space Honor, beat Shu to the punch, having managed to get a rocket 108km into the sky a few weeks earlier. However, Shu argues that his rocket was designed from scratch using private sector funding, even though it was being tested for state-owned AVIC.

The 33 year-old plans a further 10 launches in 2019 and wants to play a leading role in an industry that analysts value at $339 billion globally. However, China’s social media commentators believe he may be getting ahead of himself in comparing himself to Musk.

“You flatter yourself,” says one blogger. “Your rocket looks like a firecracker and only flies for 30 seconds,” derides another. “You call that success?”

A third concludes, “OneSpace is totally different to SpaceX. Musk achieves his dreams. You are just in it for money and contribute nothing towards industry innovation.”

This is partly because the Chongqing Liangjiang Star Rocket uses solid fuel, so it cannot be reused, whereas Musk’s new Falcon 9 rocket uses liquid fuel, which means it can. SpaceX recently launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral to install Bangladesh’s first communications satellite. It relanded nine minutes later on a drone vessel called “Of Course I Still Love You” in honour of the science fiction author Iain Banks.

More impressively still, the Falcon 9 has Block 5 boosters, which have been designed to be reused 10 times with zero maintenance, and 100 times overall. This reusability is the key to bringing commercial space costs down.

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