by Xinhua writer Yuan Quan
HAIYANG, Shandong, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- Seeking high-quality development has become a nationwide pursuit in China, but Haiyang, a small seaside city in Shandong Province, is aiming "higher" -- into space. The city is attempting to capitalize on a booming commercial rocket-launch industry to increase its competitiveness.
Haiyang made national headlines recently when a private rocket maker completed a launch from the city's waters in early September. The bright rocket flame soaring from the sea attracted thousands of spectators to the onshore viewing site. The rumble of the carrier rocket and the roar of the crowd swept over the beach.
It was the sixth sea-based rocket launch to have been performed there. On June 5, 2019, a Long March rocket blasted off from a mobile offshore platform at Haiyang Port, marking China's first space launch at sea. That successful liftoff allowed the coastal county-level city to discover its potential for further sea launches.
Launching from the sea sounds more challenging than from land, but it makes Haiyang attractive among startups, as its favorable geographical location can help them reduce costs.
The mobile sea platform allows a rocket launch closer to the equator, which provides an additional boost due to the rotational speed of Earth, while reducing the amount of fuel required to get into space.
Orienspace is one of China's newest launch startups headquartered in Haiyang. The company estimates that the total cost of a sea launch can be 10 percent less than for a land-based launch, while the preparation period can be shortened by 50 percent.
China has planned more than 60 space launches for 2023, with the current four major launch sites mainly taking on national tasks, such as sending manned spaceships and cargo craft to the space station.
"There are limited launch pads available for commercial rockets, and the sea-based spaceport in Haiyang is a perfect complement to land-based sites," said Orienspace CEO Bu Xiangwei.
Bu's company plans a sea launch of a medium-lift solid-propellent rocket in Haiyang by the end of this year. It will have a carrying capacity of 6.5 tonnes to low-Earth orbit.
Launching spacecraft has long been the preserve of China's state-owned aerospace companies, but private space firms are now popping up after a government policy issued in 2015 to encourage commercial enterprises in the industry. The commercial aerospace industry in China is estimated to become a billion-dollar market by 2025.
Cui Pin, vice president of the private rocket maker Galactic Energy, which performed the sea-based launch in Haiyang two months ago, stressed the safety advantages. He said flexible positioning of the offshore launch site ensures spent rocket stages fall into the sea rather than on land.
To meet the growing demand for sea launches, Haiyang is also boosting its capacity by building a specially designed rocket-launching vessel.
Once operational, the vessel, with integrated launch-support equipment, will be used to launch rockets from the sea, shortening the launch preparation period to five days at most. The ship is a moveable landing platform, and compared with land-based sites, it can provide more orbital routes for rocket payloads, said Teng Yao, director of a local maritime and aerospace equipment technology center, which is responsible for the ship's construction.
In addition to enterprises, the local government also wants to establish an entire industry chain to tap the potential for innovation-driven economic growth. Since 2020, it has stepped up efforts to build the Haiyang Oriental Aerospace Port, which covers an area of over 340,000 square km, with an industrial manufacturing park for rocket makers and supporting firms, a satellite data center for scientists, and a tourism zone for space fans.
Li Deren, an academician with China's top two institutions for science and engineering, is one scientist trying to work with the new spaceport. His team set up a workstation here, preparing for the launch of a constellation of 200 to 300 remote-sensing satellites by 2030.