A private Chinese space firm successfully launched a rocket into orbit

Image: Screengrab/iSpace
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After two Chinese private companies failed to launch a rocket into orbit, the third attempt has been successful.

Beijing-based Interstellar Glory Space Technology (also known as iSpace) launched a rocket into orbit today (July 25) around 1:10 pm local time from Jiuquan, a state launch facility in the Gobi desert, a company spokesperson told Quartz. That made it the first private Chinese space company to launch a rocket into orbit—an essential step in the commercialization of applications such as transporting satellites.

The three-year-old firm launched a 20-meter-tall (65 feet) rocket called Hyperbola-1. It weighs 31 metric tons (34 tons), and consists of three solid-propellant stages and a fourth liquid-propellant stage. It’s designed to have a payload of 300 kilograms (660 lbs) in low-earth orbit, and 150 kg (330 lbs) in orbits of 700 kilometers (430 miles), according to the company (link in Chinese).

LandSpace and OneSpace, two other private companies, failed to launch a rocket into orbit in October and March, respectively. The failure of those launches is creating uncertainty over China’s private space industry, as multiple companies compete to enter the launch market for small commercial satellites. The government called for private investment in the sector in 2014, but so far no company has been able to launch a rocket into orbit.

It’s unclear how much it cost for iSpace to build the rocket. Chinese state-owned automaker Changan’s passenger car brand Oushang said it would sponsor the launch, but didn’t specify the amount. In OneSpace’s case, the firm’s nine-meter-tall, solid-propellent rocket cost the company $78 million to design, build, and launch. iSpace’s main private backers (link in Chinese) include domestic private-equity firms CDH Investments and Matrix Partners.

iSpace didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

But private space companies are also getting state support in China. All of the private launches so far, for example, have taken place at Jiuquan—Elon Musk’s SpaceX recently launched a rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, while its main customer is the US Air Force. What’s different in China is the constraints that come with having state backing. In June, China rolled out a set of rules that restrict what private companies can develop and manufacture. It’s unclear if that may restrict private companies’ capabilities in building larger rockets that could rival state rocket builders.

Update, July 25: The article was updated with confirmation of a successful launch from iSpace.