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Chinese Commercial Spaceflight Industry Poised for Liftoff Despite Lagging 10 Years Behind SpaceX

China’s official state news agency Xinhua has published a long article on the country’s commercial spaceflight industry.

The Chinese rocket industry saw significant growth in 2023. Twelve out of thirteen rocket launches by private companies reached orbit successfully, a record among the 8 years that private rocket companies have been operating in China. However, there still remains a gap between these Chinese companies and SpaceX, which launched 96 times in 2023. SpaceX also dominates in terms of launch mass, accounting for 80% of the 2022 global total. Experts estimate China’s commercial space industry lags SpaceX by about 10 years.

Looking forward, China’s private rocket companies are poised to accelerate development. The central government’s fourteenth 5-year plan puts a strategic focus on commercial aerospace. Multiple commercial companies like i-Space and Blue Arrow are aiming to launch reusable liquid-fueled rockets capable of dramatic cost reductions by 2025. The future holds huge demand for satellite launches, with China Satellite Network Group Co planning a constellation of 13,000 satellites. Further policy and financial support for the industry is expected as well.

Financing remains a current bottleneck for the industry, as innovation within the industry requires costly continuous testing and design and iteration are required. Local governments are now the main investors in commercial spaceflight companies. The industry also hopes to tap public capital markets for funding.

China’s economic work conference specifically called out commercial space as a strategic emerging industry. Experts foresee strong momentum for China’s commercial space industry in the next few years as companies move toward mature reusable rocket technologies. Key players are concentrated in Beijing, which aims to build a strong base for the industry centered around China’s Economic Development Zone.

Source: Xinhua, January 24, 2023