By Jide Olugbodi

A Chinese business is working on a spacecraft that will be able to supply space station of China, with the small demo launch planned for 2022. InterSpace Explore, based in Beijing, struck a deal with Galactic Energy, a Chinese commercial launch company, on August 4 to launch the Zengzhang-1 demo returnable satellite on the Ceres-1 solid rocket in the year 2022.

Interspace Explore, formally known as Beijing Interstellar Development Technology Company Ltd., acquired millions of Chinese yuan (about ¥6.48 for every dollar) from Innoangel Fund, an investment firm the next day. According to Chinese media estimates, the Zenghang-1 (Growth-1) spacecraft will possess a launch mass of roughly 350 kgs and a payload of over 100 kilos.

At a media briefing, Fu Shiming, Interspace Explore founder and a former employee of state-owned spacecraft manufacturer China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) as well as a Tiangong-2 space lab project’s member, said that spacecraft are critical to human utilization of space resources and have significant commercial and military value.

Private-sector spacecraft development, according to Fu, may complement the local space economy and provide cost-effective solutions for space resource exploitation. The company’s current focus in research and development is on low-cost tiny cargo spacecraft. Fu also seeks out possible clients in the pharmaceutical and space breeding industries.

The arrangement with Galactic Energy came just one day after Hyperbola-1 solid rocket of iSpace failed. In the coming months, Galactic Energy hopes to launch two Ceres-1 spacecraft. The move appears to be in response to the human spaceflight agency of China, CMSA, issuing a request for ideas in January for low-cost cargo transportation systems for the space station of China. The declaration was the very first indication that commercial enterprises might be allowed to participate in the national space station venture. The move is reminiscent of previous NASA commercial cargo projects.

The essential requirements for cargo delivery are a payload capability of 1-4 tons, the ability to remove and deorbit station garbage to avoid space debris, and transportation prices that are comparable to international standards. Returning cargo to Earth requires a payload of 100-300 kilos, as well as the ability to track and recover the returning spacecraft.

The plan is to develop a “flexible, efficient, diversified, and low-cost freight transportation system” to supplement the huge Tianzhou cargo delivery system. The 13,000-kilogram Tianzhou spacecraft is China’s only means of transferring supplies and propellant to its space station in low Earth orbit. The Long March 7 spacecraft is now en route to Wenchang, Hainan Island, to launch the Tianzhou-3 flight in mid-late September, before the crewed Shenzhou-13 mission.