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Monday, January 9, 2017, 16:37

China launches commercial rocket mission Kuaizhou-1A

By Zhao Lei in Jiuquan, Gansu

Clients can alter specifications for the Kuaizhou series to suit requirements

China launches commercial rocket mission Kuaizhou-1A
The rocket Kuaizhou-1A (KZ-1A) on its first commercial mission, carrying the satellite JL-1 and two CubeSats XY-S1 and Caton-1, blasted off from northwestern China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at around 12:11 pm on Jan 9, 2017.

China conducted on Monday the first flight of a new solid-fuel carrier rocket, which designers say can save clients about US$10 million on each mission compared with similar US products.

The Kuaizhou 1A blasted off from a launch vehicle at 12:11 pm at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China to lift three small satellites - Jilin 1C, XY S1 and Caton 1 - into a sun-synchronous orbit.

Jilin-1C is a multifunctional Earth-observation satellite designed to obtain high-resolution monitor video of a designated area. It is tasked with serving multiple civilian purposes including land resources survey, environmental protection, transportation and disaster prevention and relief.

XY-S1 and Caton-1 are two experimental mini satellites. XY-S1 was made by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp to test a new low-orbit, narrowband satellite communications system. Caton-1 was developed by privately owned Beijing Caton Technology Co to demonstrate technologies for the company's maritime satellites.

The launch was carried out in accordance with market discipline and commercial contracts, marking a landmark in China's commercial space sector, according to CASIC. The company previously said the launch contract was worth about 100 million yuan (US$14.5 million).

In China, a commercial space mission generally refers to space launch activity paid for by an entity other than a Chinese government or military department. Despite China having a long history of space exploration, commercial space is a new idea that is becoming popular among State-owned space contractors as they are eager to seize lucrative opportunities in addition to government-assigned tasks.

In mid-February, CASIC set up a commercial launch provider - Expace Technology Co - to take charge of Kuaizhou rockets' marketing. The contract for Monday's launch was signed in April, becoming the first deal for Expace Technology.

Zhang Di, a senior rocket designer at CASIC and chairman of Expace Technology, said CASIC aims at making Kuaizhou rockets the best choice of solid-fuel rockets in the international market in terms of both launch capability and price.

"We know that the US' SpaceX is very strong in this field, but we are determined to make better and more affordable rockets than theirs," he told China Daily after Monday's launch. "Currently, the average price of each kilogram of payload launched by a solid-fuel rocket is about US$40,000, but our charge rate is lower than US$30,000. In addition, our service is competitive when it comes to other costs such as personnel and launch facility expenditures."

Using Kuaizhou 1A, a client can save US$10 million on each launch compared with US solid-fuel rockets currently available on the market, he said, explaining that the low price does not compromise its capabilities, which are as good as foreign products.

Expace is now in talks with satellite makers in Asia, Europe and Latin America, and has received procurement intentions from domestic clients for more than 10 Kuaizhou 11, a bigger and stronger type under development by CASIC, according to Di.

Liang Jiqiu, chief designer of the Kuaizhou series at CASIC, said most components installed on Kuaizhou rockets are off-the-shelf products, therefore production costs are low.

He added that clients are able to make changes to the Kuaizhou rockets' specifications based on their requirements, which is an advantage that most other solid-fuel rockets in the international market do not have because they are refitted ballistic missiles.

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