Many startups that hope to become the next SpaceX

Robert Zubrin believes that by 2023, there will be at least six other private space launch companies that will join SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Stratolaunch in commercial space launch.

Robert Zubrin runs the Mars Society and he gets a close-up view of the private space ventures and those who are planning private space ventures.

Zubrin is aware of other groups of people in Russia who would like to pull together a Russian SpaceX. They have technical expertise over there and the sources of capital. Zubrin believes that there are people in China who would want to pull together a Chinese SpaceX.

Zubrin was well acquainted with the previous private efforts in the 1990s as well as Musk’s SpaceX. Elon did not just throw some money at the problem and quit as soon as it got tough. He put not only his fortune but his heart, mind and his soul into it. He learned rocketry himself, and he didn’t give up when his first three launches failed.

There are several small rocket launch startups in the USA, Japan, South Korea and China. Several have successfully reached orbit with launches.

China’s startups have some government and military support.

It seems like most want to have 3D printed very inexpensive cubesat or 1000 kilogram or lighter launches. Several want to reach 100 launches per year. The companies could then get additional funding to move up to compete against SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Rocket Labs

Rocket Lab is an American aerospace manufacturer with a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary. They are making 3D printed rockets for launching cubesats.

Electron is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses Rocket Lab’s Rutherford liquid engines on both stages. It can delivering payloads of 150 kg to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit, the target range for the growing small satellite market. The projected cost is less than US$5 million per launch.

The Rutherford engine battery-powered electric motors for pumps rather than a gas generator, expander, or preburner. The engine is also fabricated largely by 3D printing, via electron beam melting, whereby layers of metal powder are melted in a high vacuum by an electron beam rather than a laser.

On 21 January 2018, their second rocket named “Still Testing” launched, reached orbit and deployed three CubeSats for customers Planet Labs and Spire Global.

Vector Launch

Vector Launch plans to recover the first stages of its rockets for reuse, however their strategy for doing so differs from those of other companies in that they do not plan to use powered rocket landings. Their rocket has a carbon fiber structure, some 3D printed engine parts, minimal infrastructure launch pads, and a fast launch cadence, which the company hopes will eventually reach 100 launches per year. The first client of Vector was Iceye, a company in Finland.

OneSpace Space Launch Startup

In May 2018, OneSpace, a startup based in Beijing, became China’s first private company to launch its own rocket. They successfully launched a 9-meter-tall OS-X rocket.

OneSpace’s OS-X rocket is designed to carry out tests and research during suborbital flights.

OneSpace works with Chinese military institutions on research and development and technical services. The OneSpace manufacturing plant in the southwestern city of Chongqing that is partly owned by the local government.

OneSpace Rockets

The OS-M1 is a light-launch spacelaunch launch vehicle rocketing payloads to low Earth orbit (LEO) and Sun synchronous orbit (SSO). It is projected to be capable of lofting 205 kg (452 lb) to 300 km (190 mi) high LEO; and 73 kg (161 lb) to 800 km (500 mi) high SSO. The first launch is scheduled for Q4 2018.

The OS-M2 is similar to the OS-M1, but has two boosters. Block A will be capable of lifting 390 kg (860 lb) to LEO and 204 kg (450 lb) to 800 km (500 mi) SSO, while block B will be capable of lifting 505 kg (1,113 lb) to LEO and 274 kg (604 lb) to 800 km (500 mi) SEO.

The OS-M4 has four boosters. Block A will be capable of lifting 552 kg to LEO and 307 kg to 800km SSO, while block B will be capable of lifting 748 kg to LEO and 446 kg to 800km SEO.

Future OS-M rockets

The firm is anticipating making future entries in the OS-M series of rockets in some way reusable.

OneSpace is developing a 59 ton rocket that was originally scheduled for launch in 2018. It is to have a 500 kg (1,100 lb) payload to LEO. This is projected to cost RMB ¥100,000 CNY/kg ($6500 USD/lb). OneSpace also envisions to eventually develop a crewed space capsule.

LandSpace, LinkSpace and ExPace

LandSpace, LinkSpace and ExPace are three other startup space launch companies in China.

In January 2017, LandSpace became the first private Chinese commercial spacelaunch company to sign a launch contract with a foreign customer when it formed a partnership with the Danish firm GOMSpace.

Zhuque-1, also called LandSpace-1, is a 19-meter-tall, three-stage solid-propellant rocket. Its maiden flight is scheduled for the end of 2018, carrying a satellite for China Central Television. Zhuque-1 has a takeoff mass of 27 metric tons and a thrust of 45 tons, and is able to carry 300 kg of payload into a 300 km low Earth orbit. The rocket is likely to launch from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.

LandSpace is also developing liquid-fuelled rockets, in addition to the solid-fuelled ones. Zhuque-2 (ZQ-2) is a medium-sized rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane capable of lifting 4,000 kg of payload into a 200km low Earth orbit, or 2,000 kg of payload into a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit. The rocket is planned to be launched in 2020.

LinkSpace

LinkSpace is developing reusable rockets.On July 2016, they successfully hovered a single-engine thrust-vectored rocket. By September 2017, they had built three hovering rockets, tested in Shandong Province.

The LinkSpace New Line 1 is a two-stage rocket under development to launch microsats and nanosats, with a reusable first stage. It is to be a liquid-fuelled rocket, with a diameter of 1.8 m (5.9 ft), height of 20 m (66 ft). It would have a lift-off mass of 33 t (32 long tons; 36 short tons) and take-off thrust of 400 kN (90,000 lbf), allowing a payload of 200 kg (440 lb) to be lifted into a Sun synchronous orbit (SSO) of 249–550 km (155–342 mi) high. The first stage would have four liquid engines, fuelled by kerolox (liquid oxygen and kerosene), each producing 100 kN (22,000 lbf) of thrust. It is projected to have an initial launch cost of $4.5 million, dropping to $2.25 million using a reused first stage. As of the end of 2017, the main rocket engine has been tested over 200 times, and first launch is planned for 2020.

LinkSpace is developing a reusable second stage, in addition to the reusable first stage, is anticipated for in a future vehicle, such as New Line 3.

ExPace

ExPace is a subsidiary of missileer China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.

ExPace’s line of Kuaizhou rockets use solid rocket motors.

Kuaizhou 1 (KZ-1):
200 kg (440 lb) to SSO; First launch: 2013;

Kuaizhou 1A:
300 kg (660 lb) to LEO; First launch: 2017;

Kuaizhou 11 (KZ-11):
2.2m diameter; 2.2-2.6m payload fairing; 78t lift-off mass; 1.5t to LEO; 1t to SSO; $10,000/kg;
First launch: projected 2018;

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