China's next commercial rockets to make test flights in 2020, 2021
The release of the flight schedule by China Rocket Co, a unit of state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, comes two months after the firm’s first reusable rocket, the 23-tonne Smart Dragon-1, delivered three satellites into orbit.
China envisions constellations of commercial satellites that can offer services ranging from high-speed internet for aircraft to tracking coal shipments. Reusable designs will enable frequent rocket launches and help keep costs down.
The solid-propellant Smart Dragon-2, weighing about 60 tonnes and with a total length of 21 meters, will be capable of sending 500 kg payloads into orbit at an altitude of 500 km (310 miles), Xinhua said. It is expected to conduct a flight test next year.
At about 116 tonnes and with a length of 31 meters, the Smart Dragon-3, set for a test flight in 2021, will be capable of sending 1.5 tonne payloads into orbit, Xinhua added.
In July, Beijing-based iSpace became the first private Chinese firm to deliver a satellite into orbit on its rocket. Since late last year, two other startups have attempted to launch satellites but failed.