China to launch space tourism by 2025, says industry veteran

Asserts Beijing can achieve parity with US capabilities within a decade, thanks to burgeoning private sector

China’s space tourism operators will lift off for first time in 2025 at between $280k-$400k per sub-orbital seat, according to the founder of Beijing-backed commercial launch service provider CAS Space, Yang Yiqiang.

Yang, who served as director general of Long March 11 rocket program in 2018, a year in which the vehicle launched three times, also told state-sponsored media that China’s space capabilities would catch up to the USA's within a decade.

In Yang's telling, China’s commercial aerospace has entered the 2.0 era, driven by applications and market forces, from the 1.0 era that featured basic manufacturing and research and development. He expects the Middle Kingdom’s industry to enter the “3.0 era” within five years, during which private outfits like his own will need to increase rocket payload capacity to between five and 14 tons, build a global satellite constellation, figure out how to reuse its rockets, and reduce costs.

Yang believes the industry will hit “full bloom" by 2027, after developing the abovementioned capabilities. Yang asserted China will also need to develop a commercial business model for space missions, plus shared public and private services related to navigation, positioning, remote sensing and low-orbit internet.

Yang said China's space industry can access sufficient funds for rockets and satellites, adding that enterprises capable of developing viable technology and sustainable space businesses have already emerged. In fact, Yang believes “continuous influx of capital will cause internal friction of these enterprises” and stressed the need for new investments to focus on upstream supply chain, like engines and components, and downstream applications like navigation and remote sensing.

“The key to the development of China's commercial spaceflight is not rockets or satellites, but applications. The closer we are to ordinary people and end users, the higher the business benefits, and we must make commercial aerospace deep into the lives of ordinary people,” said Yang.

It may be no surprise the space business founder would suggest more rockets aren't needed, as Yang's company in 2021 began developing a single stage suborbital space tourism, the ZK-6, a vehicle similar to Blue Origin’s New Shepard.

According to the Global Times, an industry report has compiled a list of over 370 Chinese satellite manufacturing, rocket launch and space-related downstream services. The encouragement of private space industry in China began in 2015, making if fairly late to the game.

The US has shown concern at China’s eagerness and ability to catch up in the realm of space technology.

Space Force Lieutenant General B. Chance Saltzman warned last week during a nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that China has developed the ability to destroy US space assets.

"The most immediate threat, in my opinion, is the pace with which our strategic challengers – first and foremost the Chinese – are aggressively pursuing capabilities that can disrupt, degrade and ultimately even destroy our satellite capabilities and disrupt our ground infrastructure," said Saltzman.

But Yang told Global Times that “it is very important that in the future, commercial space will evolve towards globalization” and the Chinese space industry should “enhance their sensitivity to the international market” while creating international industry standards that support Beijing’s goals, including the Belt and Road Initiative. ®

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