It’s been a good few weeks for Chinese private space companies, who are looking to catch up to their American peers in a rapidly growing industry.
And in the past week, the companies LinkSpace successfully launched its RLV-T5 reusable rocket for the third time, reaching 300 meters—its highest altitude to date. The company plans an additional test with the RLV-T5 aiming to exceed a kilometer in height.
LinkSpace also announced last week a new reusable rocket project, the RLV-T6, which it claims can potentially be launched over 100 times per year. The RLV-6 is a larger rocket and capable of reaching altitudes of approximately 62 miles.
Cost is key in the commercial space industry. And Chinese companies offer value compared to their American counterparts. A launch on an iSpace rocket costs around $5 million—or roughly a fifth of that of a comparable Northrop Grumman rocket, writes Matthew Greenwood in a report for Engineering.com. LinkSpace—which uses more cost-effective liquid propellant launchers—says its launches may cost even less, around $4.25 million.
One emerging competitive niche within the commercial space industry is satellite-based global broadband. Several American companies, including Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are aiming to put into orbit constellations of small satellites to provide broadband service in difficult-to-reach areas.
There’s a new great space race underway—with both commercial and governmental players involved. China’s official program may have already caught up with America’s—some say it’s now more advanced than that of the United States—and its commercial companies may soon be in the rear-view mirror of their American counterparts.