Chinese spaceflight startups building reusable rockets, could compete with SpaceX

Elon Musk's SpaceX company could soon have some Chinese competitors.
By Rick Docksai | May 15, 2018
The United States isn't the only country where commercial spaceflight is developing reusable rockets that can bring down the cost of travel to space. Several Chinese space companies announced that they, too, are designing rockets capable of repeated flights and intend to offer them to customers around the globe after their maiden flights, which will all take place by 2020.

"China's aerospace industry is making efforts to develop low-cost vehicles that can enter space rapidly to support future large-scale space exploration and promote a commercial space industry," said Long Lehao, chief designer of carrier rockets at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

China's reusable-rocket developers include the Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which plans to send its Long March 8 rocket on a debut flight in 2020. This rocket, like SpaceX's Falcon vehicles, will have a reusable first stage and will use leftover fuel to land vertically upon returning to Earth. It will be capable to carrying 7.7 tons into orbit.

CASC said it plans to make all of its rockets reusable by 2035. The Long March 8 is structurally similar to other older CASC rockets, which suggests that the company may retrofit its older rockets for reusability.

Another Chinese company, Linkspace, plans to launch its reusable New Line 1 rocket that same year. New Line 1 will also have vertical landing capability.

CASC and rival firm Chinese Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) are additionally developing spaceplanes. Both companies plan for their models to fly in 2020 and to carry cargo into orbit, much like the U.S. Air Force's X-37B.

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