Chinese private space firm makes history with launch of its 1st orbital mission

Beijing-based private company i-Space launched a carrier rocket with a payload into orbit on Thursday, marking the first successful orbital mission by that country’s commercial space industry.

The solid-propellant rocket, named SQX-1 Y1, the largest and most powerful spacecraft built by the space company, lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 1pm local time.

The rocket launched into orbit two satellites, one from the state-owned hi-tech company China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp and the other from the Beijing Institute of Technology, as well as several experimental payloads.

“The success started a new chapter for China’s private aerospace industry,” i-Space wrote, announcing the success of the mission.

The launch is considered a landmark achievement for China’s commercial space sector, as previous missions by other local start-ups, LandSpace and One-Space, failed. The former’s Zhuque-1 vehicle was the first orbital launch attempt by a private Chinese firm.

However, the mission, launched in October 2018, failed after the rocket suffered a malfunction at the third stage. Several months later, OneSpace also failed to put a satellite into orbit aboard its OS-M1 rocket.

In 2014, the Chinese government started encouraging private capital to invest in the space industry. Two years later the country’s State Council issued a white paper, calling the space industry “an important part of the nation’s overall development strategy.”

Beijing has been advancing in the space race in recent years. As part of its ambitious lunar exploration program, Chang’e-4 mission successfully landed on the far side of the Moon in January. China also wants to go deeper into space next year as it prepares to launch its first Mars rover.