China today successfully completed the first orbital launch of its privately-funded but government-built smallsat Smart Dragon rocket, putting three smallsats into orbit.
From the Chinese state press:
The rocket, developed by the China Rocket Co. Ltd. affiliated to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT), blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 12:11 p.m. (Beijing Time).
The three satellites, respectively developed by three Beijing-based companies, will be used for remote sensing services, communication and Internet of Things.
Different from the carrier rockets of the Long March family, the new Dragon series is developed in a commercial mode to meet the market demand of launching small commercial satellites, said Wang Xiaojun, head of CALVT.
What they mean by “a commercial mode” is that the funding comes from private Chinese investors who hope to make money from the rocket’s launches. However, this is not a private operation by any means, since the rocket is owned and built by a government entity and uses military solid motors.
From an American perspective, this Chinese attempt to create a commercial launch industry using private funds but tight government supervision and control is very puzzling. This government company is now competing directly with other Chinese launch companies that are, at least superficially, owned and run by private corporations (though also supervised closely by the government). How the Chinese government prevents its government agencies from putting their thumbs on the scale to favor one over the other I do not understand.
The leaders in the 2019 launch race:
6 Europe (Arianespace)
The U.S leads 17 to 12 over Russia and China in the national rankings.
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