A small satellite launcher developed by Chinese startup iSpace failed to orbit the Earth observation payload on Friday, the company’s third consecutive failure for the Hyperbola 1 rocket.
The solid-fuel Hyperbola 1 launcher took off from Jiuquan Space Center in northwest China at 3:09 a.m. EDT (0709 GMT) on Friday or at 3:09 p.m. Beijing time. However, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the rocket had experienced “abnormal performance” during the flight.
The cause of the failure is under investigation, Xinhua said.
The Hyperbola 1 rocket is one of a growing number of small Chinese launchers developed in a commercial model. A successful Hyperbola 1 mission in 2019 made iSpace the first company outside China’s traditional state-owned space industry to launch a payload into orbit.
But iSpace has now suffered three consecutive launch failures. Engineers upgraded the Hyperbola 1 rocket after the 2019 mission and two iSpace launches failed to bring satellites into orbit in February and August last year.
The payload on Friday’s failed launch is believed to have been a high-resolution Earth imaging satellite for the Chinese remote sensing Jilin 1 constellation.
The Hyperbola 1 rocket – also called the SQX-1 – is a four-stage rocket capable of launching a payload of up to 660 pounds or 300 kilograms on a modern 310-mile (500 km) track, according to iSpace. The Hyperbola 1 is about 78 feet (24 meters) tall and produces about 173,000 pounds of lift.
With the possibility of a policy change in 2014 allowing the flow of private capital into China’s launch industry, companies like iSpace, founded in recent years, have quickly created small solid fuel launchers. Many, or all, of the first generation of privately funded Chinese launchers appear to be using rocket engines derived from Chinese ballistic missiles.
In 2020, another Chinese launch company called Galactic Energy became the second Chinese startup to launch a rocket into Earth orbit independently of the country’s inherited state space contractors. The second launch of Galactic Energy’s Ceres 1 satellite amplifier was also successful in 2021.
Two other companies, LandSpace and OneSpace, have launched orbital missiles unsuccessfully.
China’s traditional state-owned space contractors have also been developed to develop small satellite launch vehicles. China Rocket, a spinoff of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, or CALT, has successfully launched the Jielong solid-fuel rocket in 2019.
CALT has also developed and launched the Long March 11 rocket with solid fuels 13 times, all successfully. Another state-owned state-owned enterprise in China’s space industry, called CASIC, operates the Kuaizhou 1 and Kuaizhou 11 solid fuel launch vehicles.
Many of the new wave of Chinese launch companies, including iSpace, are designing more powerful liquid-fuel rockets to carry heavier satellites into orbit.
The Hyperbola 2 rocket under development by iSpace is designed to be reusable, with the first and second stages being powered by engines powered by methane and liquid oxygen. The Hyperbola 2 rocket will be 92 feet (28 meters) high and its first stage is attempting a propulsion landing, allowing the iSpace to retrieve, renovate and reuse the amplifier.
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