While SpaceX is leading the trend of commercial spaceflight in the United States, China's first private rocket producer is quietly preparing for what it calls the first flight of a carrier rocket designed and made completely by a private company from China.
Shu Chang, founder and chief executive of OneSpace Technology, a privately owned startup in Beijing that develops and builds carrier rockets, said in an exclusive interview that the maiden launch of the company's OS-X0 solid-fuel rocket is set to take place in May at a test field in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
Engineers at OneSpace have finished most of the testing on the rocket, which was recently transported from the company's manufacturing facility in Beijing to the test field, he said.
"We designed and made the rocket, including its engine, on our own, and no one has done so before us, so it is fair to call it the first privately developed Chinese rocket," Shu said. "Once the test flights prove successful, the OS-X series will be tasked with performing technological demonstration flights for testing new types of aircraft or spacecraft."
Many domestic institutes have designed new concepts of aircraft and spacecraft, he explained, and these futuristic craft need to have test flights done atop a rocket to verify their aerodynamic designs, creating huge opportunities for Shu's rockets.
"The market prospects for the OS-X family are very good－it has been scheduled to make three to four launches within this year on orders from domestic clients," Shu said, adding that OneSpace expects up to 10 missions for such rockets in 2019.
The company says the 6-meter-tall OS-X0 is capable of placing 100-kilogram payloads into an orbit 800 kilometers above Earth. The rocket can accelerate new concept craft it's testing to a hypersonic speed of Mach 13, or 4.4 kilometers per second.
Established in 2015, a year now widely deemed the opening chapter of China's commercial space industry, OneSpace has become a rising star in the country's space arena, which has long been dominated by State-owned contractors. Its rapid growth has been possible thanks to government endeavors to foster the commercial space sector and encourage participation from private enterprises.
Another advantage lies in the fact that State-owned space giants focus most of their attention and resources on the medium-sized and large rockets that are launch vehicles for government-backed, heavyweight spacecraft.
That leaves considerable market share for small rockets made by private firms.
Shu said his company is developing the OS-M1, a larger rocket, to send small satellites into sun-synchronous or low-Earth orbits. He said it will be "the lowest-cost small rocket in the world".
OneSpace plans to conduct OS-M1's first flight around year's end, but that depends on a government-run space launch center the company wants to use for that mission, he said.
"There are many producers of small or mini satellites in the international market, but the number of rocket providers is very small. Many foreign firms have reached out to us to discuss using our rockets to lift their satellites," Shu said.
OneSpace rockets' major competitor in the global market is India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, commonly known as PSLV, which has gained credence as a small satellite launcher, he said.