China’s space industry has experienced a remarkable transformation in recent years, thanks to the emergence of a dynamic private sector. Leading this transformation is a group of innovative space startups that are pushing the boundaries of technology and challenging the traditional dominance of state-owned enterprises. Not only are these companies developing cutting-edge technologies, but they are also pioneering new business models that make space access more affordable and accessible. In this article, we will delve into the stories of five of China’s top space startups: GalaxySpace, LandSpace, i-Space, Spacety, and MinoSpace. These companies exemplify the diverse and vibrant landscape of China’s space sector, and their accomplishments demonstrate the country’s growing capabilities in this field.
China’s Revolutionising Space Startups
GalaxySpace, a Chinese space startup founded in 2016, is focused on affordable small communication satellites and a global high-speed satellite Internet network. They have successfully deployed six LEO broadband satellites weighing 190kg each with a capacity of over 40Gbps. Their goal is to develop a 5G test network called “Mini-Spider Constellation” with 144 satellites. With funding of $14.5 million and a valuation of $1.2 billion, GalaxySpace has attracted investments from notable entities. They plan to manufacture 200-500 satellites annually and launch their first satellites with flat panel antennas and flexible solar arrays by early 2023. GalaxySpace is a key player in China’s space industry and will contribute to China’s national satellite internet mega-constellation of 13,000 satellites.
LandSpace Technology Corporation is a Chinese space launch provider founded in 2015. It has established aerospace infrastructure sites in Zhejiang province, including a $1.5 billion rocket assembly and test plant in Jiaxing. Despite a setback with their first launch vehicle, LandSpace developed the successful Zhuque-2, the world’s first methalox rocket to reach orbit. The Zhuque-2 has an impressive payload capacity and is capable of lifting 6,000 kg into a Low Earth Orbit or 4,000 kg into a Sun-synchronous orbit. LandSpace is dedicated to advancing liquid fuel rocket engines and commercial launch vehicles with independent intellectual property rights. It serves the small and medium-sized commercial aerospace application market and is a key player in China’s space launch sector.
i-Space, also known as Interstellar Glory, is a Beijing-based private space technology development and space launch company. Established in October 2016, i-Space is focused on the development of two-stage small satellite orbital launchers. These launchers utilize solid propellant rocket engines sourced from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CAST), a major Chinese government supplier.
In July 2019, i-Space achieved a significant milestone by successfully launching the Hyperbola-1 rocket, which reached low Earth orbit on its inaugural flight. This accomplishment made i-Space the first private Chinese company to achieve orbit. However, subsequent attempts to launch the Hyperbola-1 in February 2021, August 2021, and May 2022 were unsuccessful in reaching orbit. Despite these setbacks, i-Space has made progress in its pursuit of a reusable launch vehicle. The company has successfully launched and safely landed a test article, demonstrating its capabilities in this area. The Hyperbola-2, a methane-liquid oxygen reusable verification stage, reached a height of 178 meters during its 51-second flight. It executed a powered descent and soft landing, supported by four landing legs. This vertical take-off and vertical landing test signifies a step forward in the development of a reusable medium-lift rocket, which is expected to debut in 2025. i-Space’s achievement in 2019 as the first privately-funded Chinese company to reach orbit with the solid-fuelled Hyperbola-1 rocket is a significant milestone in the country’s space industry.
Spacety, also known as Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute, is a private company based in Beijing that specializes in space technology and launch services. The company was established in 2016 and focuses on small satellites and satellite-based services, offering Satellites-as-a-Service (SataaS) using its low-cost and high-performance cubesat and smallsat fleet. Spacety is currently developing and deploying a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation, which includes both C-band and X-band radar, to provide real-time imagery of every point on Earth. The company also provides shared satellite platforms and flight opportunities to make space access fast, easy, and affordable. Spacety, a company with 70 employees operating in Changsha and Beijing, currently has nine missions and 15 satellites in orbit. Nevertheless, it is crucial to highlight that in January 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury included Spacety Co., Ltd. (Changsha) in the Specially Designated Nationals List (“SDN List”). This action was taken based on allegations that the company supplied satellite imagery of Ukraine to aid the mercenary Wagner Group in their combat operations for Russia.
Beijing MinoSpace Technology Co., Ltd., also known as MinoSpace, is a privately-owned satellite manufacturer located in Beijing. The company was established in 2017 and specializes in providing satellite system technology solutions for the commercial market. MinoSpace offers a wide range of services, including satellite design, manufacturing, on-orbit delivery, and communication ground terminals and stations. The company is committed to meeting the needs of both domestic Chinese satellite developers and international clients, offering platforms that range from CubeSats to 1,000 kg spacecraft. MinoSpace has completed six space missions and launched eight satellites weighing up to 75 kg since its inception. The company’s origins can be traced back to 2014 when the Chinese State Council issued Document 60, which aimed to promote private investment and encourage private companies’ participation in the previously state-dominated space industry. With MinoSpace’s ambitious growth plans and the thriving private sector in China, it is estimated that the demand for commercial small satellite launches in China will exceed 4,000 spacecraft in the next 5 to 10 years