- China Rocket unveiled a slew of solid-fuelled rockets codenamed ‘Smart Dragon’ (SD) and liquid-propellant rocket Tenglong a few days ago
- China’s move is timed with the upcoming test-launch of India’s mini-PSLV rocket or small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) by the year-end
Keeping an eye on the growing satellite launch market, China has unveiled small space rockets to give competition to India.
China Rocket, the commercial space wing of rocket-maker China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, unveiled a slew of solid-fuelled rockets codenamed ‘Smart Dragon’ (SD) and liquid-propellant rocket Tenglong a few days ago. However, the rockets will make debut launches in the next two years.
China’s move is timed with the upcoming test-launch of India’s mini-PSLV rocket or small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) by the year-end. Isro’s SSLV is a rocket-on-demand and has been developed specifically for commercial launches. The SSLV, which has been booked by a US satellite customer much before its debut, can be assembled in just 3-5 days as compared to 30-40 days for a normal-size rocket and made in just one-tenth the cost of a PSLV, which is worth around Rs 150 crore.
The Chinese SD rocket family comprises SD-1, SD-2, and SD-3. While SD-1 launcher, with 200kg lifting capability, completed its maiden flight on August 17, SD-2 (500kg lifting capability) and SD-3 (1.5 tonnes) will make first flights in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Tenglong’s first flight is due in 2021.
The Chinese rockets will have to create a niche for themselves in the satellite market, where Isro has already gained its foothold. Its tried and trusted PSLV has till now launched 297 foreign satellites and still holds the world record for launching 104 satellites in one go. PSLV has various variants, which are meant for carrying different-size payloads to different orbits. Besides the PSLV and upcoming SSLV, Isro has also started using the fourth stage of the rocket for carrying nanosatellite or experimental modules of private parties for experimental purposes.
According to a new market intelligence report by BIS Research, the global small satellite market generated a revenue of $513.6 million in 2018 and is expected to reach $2.9 billion by 2030. Globally, 17,000 small satellites are expected to be launched between now and 2030. Antrix, Isro’s commercial arm, had generated revenue of over Rs 2,000 crore in 2017-18, which is likely to double in five years. Currently, US private space company Elon Musk-promoted Space X has gobbled the lion’s share of the market with over 60% share. Though a big player in Asia, Isro holds less than 2% of the market share.
Though China’s space industry lags behind that of India’s, its new launchers will try to corner a big share of the market. The country had also changed its space policy in 2014 allowing private participation in space that led to the emergence of half-a-dozen commercial launch vehicle companies.