China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, the largest missile maker in the country, is taking aim at 20 percent or more of the small-satellite launch contracts in the world by 2020, company executives said.
“We estimate that from 2017 to 2020, we will send aloft at least 10 solid-fuel carrier rockets each year, to send about 50 small satellites into orbit,” said Guo Yong, president of the CASIC Fourth Academy, in an exclusive interview with China Daily in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province. That, he said, would account for “about one-fifth of the estimated total annual missions of solid-fuel rockets around the world in that period”.
Guo said letters of intent to use nearly 20 Kuaizhou rockets were signed at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition this month in Zhuhai, Guangdong province.
“Our clients told us that they hope the launch of their satellites will be arranged as early as possible,” Guo added.
In mid-February, the academy set up China’s second commercial launch provider, Expace Technology Co. The first was China Great Wall Industry Corp, established in 1980, which is part of another major space contractor, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
Great Wall Industry has done 54 commercial launches for over 20 overseas clients since 1990, when it launched its first foreign-made satellite. All of those commercial missions used Long March rockets developed by Great Wall’s parent company.
Zhang Di, vice-president of the CASIC Fourth Academy and chairman of Expace, said Expace plans its first commercial space launch early in 2017, using a Kuaizhou 1 to put three Earth observation satellites made by State-owned Changguang Satellite Technology Co in orbit. The contract is worth about 100 million yuan ($14.5 million).
More than 10 other Changguang satellites are “in their storehouses waiting to be launched by Kuaizhou rockets”, Zhang quoted Changguang executives as saying.
Expace is in talks with satellite makers in Asia, Europe and Latin America and has taken part in public bidding on their commercial launches, according to Zhang.
“Foreign clients told us that they are interested in Kuaizhou rockets’ strong capabilities and competitive prices,” Zhang said. “The Kuaizhou models are specifically designed for launches of small satellites. They are capable of lifting four to six satellites to multiple orbits in a single flight and require a short period of time for pre-launch preparations, and fewer than 10 operators.”
Expace charges around $10,000 for each kilogram of payload, much lower than the average international rate of $25,000 to $30,000, he explained.
CASIC Fourth Academy began to develop Kuaizhou rockets in 2009, intending to form a low-cost, quick-response rocket family for the commercial market.
The Fourth Academy is now making a new-generation Kuaizhou 11 and plans to launch it in 2017, said Tan Qinghai, publicity head at the academy.
Designers said the Kuaizhou 11 has a liftoff weight of 78 metric tons and will be able to place a 1-ton payload into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 kilometers, or a 1.5-ton payload into a low Earth orbit at an altitude of 400 km.