China’s first attempt to reach orbit via a private launch company failed yesterday. On Beijing-based startup LandSpace attempted the first launch of its three-stage Zhuque-1 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gobi desert, and while the rocket successfully lifted off, it failed to reach orbit.
In a post to Chinese microblogging site Weibo (via The Financial Times), LandSpace says that while the launch was successful, an error occurred during the third stage, and the rocket failed to reach orbit. Despite that setback, the company hailed the flight as a success: it pointed to the fact that the first two stages performed as expected, and said that it was the first private space firm in China to obtain a rocket launch license. The company notes that the rocket will “continue to move forward.” According to QZ, the rocket was carrying a satellite that would have broadcast a television series called Cheers Science for state broadcaster CCTV.
This isn’t the first-ever launch from a Chinese commercial space company, but it does appear to have been the first attempt to reach orbit. Earlier this year, Beijing company OneSpace successfully performed two suborbital launches in May and again in September. Those launches were demonstrations that weren’t intended for orbit, but at the time, OneSpace noted that it plans to perform 10 launches in 2019.
Up until recently, China’s space interests have been conducted by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), which has sent satellites and taikonauts into space. In 2014, the Chinese government began to allow private companies to enter the space industry. LandSpace was founded in 2015, and was characterized as the most advanced player in China’s private space industry.