China, we have liftoff. On Thursday, OneSpace, a privately-owned startup in Beijing, will become the first private company to launch a rocket into space.
OneSpace plans on using its rockets for testing and research primarily, but it will also assist companies in bringing small satellites into orbit for purposes such as improving internet in planes, trains, and even on the ground. In the long run, OneSpace hopes to be able to transport humans into space, but for now, CEO Shu Chang and his team are staying pragmatic and grounding themselves with realistic short-term goals.
OneSpace has often been seen as China’s version of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and although they are far behind in the race in rocket launches and space exploration, they are advancing quickly. OneSpace’s rocket, according to Chang, took just three years to build, which compares favorably to most rocket manufacturing timeframes, which can take up to ten years.
Although OneSpace has worked wonders in developing and launching a rocket quickly, they still have their work cut out for them if they want to rival SpaceX. Moreover, since 2010, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has had 53 successful launches out of 55, a 96% (!) success rate. OneSpace has only been around since 2015, so it’s developing quickly, but it is still far behind in the race to space.
Additionally, money is somewhat of an issue for the China-based startup. OneSpace has only raised 500 yuan ($78 million dollars), which is chump change for the rocket industry, which usually eats up billions of dollars. In fact, SpaceX says that one launch alone costs them $62 million – if that is the case, then additional funding needs to come soon.
However, OneSpace apparently has a plan in place to reduce costs. The company has told the public that it uses a specific electrical system which weighs ten times less than most rockets, which keeps costs at a minimum. Plus, after this launch, their investments and support from government subsidies are likely to skyrocket (no pun intended). In fact, after SpaceX launched a satellite into space on just its third launch on the Falcon 9, private equity valuation almost doubled from $1.3 billion to $2.4 billion.
Thus, OneSpace may not be SpaceX yet, and people will doubt their legitimacy, but they are on the right track. Many people forget that SpaceX also faced many doubters back when it first started, and now it’s one of the highest valued private aerospace manufacturing companies in the world.
And while SpaceX is OneSpace’s strongest adversary, it is not their only one. Further, Boeing’s Starliner will be tested for human spaceflight in August, Google Lunar X’s competition to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon is approaching its final deadline, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is set to have its first launch in 2020, and New Zealand company Rocket Lab plans on launching this year.
Many people believe that SpaceX is the only private competitor in the commercial space travel industry, but clearly, that is not the case. Companies like OneSpace are gaining incredible momentum as new technologies and parts continue to be unveiled.
For OneSpace, their biggest obstacle is doubt. Companies, scientists, and government officials will question their capabilities and consequently refrain from funding them, which is clearly needed. This creates a chicken-or-the-egg problem, where the company can’t expand without investments, but investors don’t want to contribute money until major successes are made. This launch on Thursday will be a big first step in silencing some of the doubters, but the support will need to grow exponentially if OneSpace hopes to challenge Tesla in the race to Mars.
Featured image via JSC Features