China set to challenge U.S. launches

BEIJING, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- China is to "aggressively" go after the U.S.- and Russia-dominated commercial launch market with its new fourth space center, a space analyst has claimed.

The Chinese government announced last week the development of the Wenchang Center, named after the nearby city on the country's most southerly island Hainan and just 19 degrees from the equator.


The facility will rise from what is a former low-orbital vehicle space launch center to become China's premier launch facility capable of taking the new Long March CZ-5 rockets, still in the design development stage.

When the facility starts becoming operational beginning as early as 2013, China will have the ability to challenge the market share of the United States and Russia in commercial vehicle launches, said Charles Vick, a senior analyst at Global

It's being advertised as a civilian facility but it also has a military and a lunar planetary capability, he said. It will provide them with a low-cost option to tackle the supremacy of the other countries.

"It's almost like they want to flood the market with launch services to in effect push others out of the business," Vick told Radio Australia.

"They've been put back (financially) by the unwillingness of the United States to permit U.S.-related payloads to be launched on the Long March series of launch vehicles. They miss the economic stimulus and additional funding."

The Chinese government has also said the Wenchang Center will be more open to the public and become a tourist attraction. This will raise the profile of the center with Western media and be a public relations boost for promoting its commercial launch abilities, said Vick.

The Long March rockets, which feature heavily in commercial launches, are made by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, and satellites are produced by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. Both are state-owned, but some analysts believe they are being given a free hand to behave similarly to private companies in the West.

China has spent several years developing the CZ-5, thanks to information gleaned through effective "espionage of Western technologies," said Vick. The CZ-5 is considered to be a non-toxic rocket because the first stage uses more environmentally friendly kerosene/lox fuel, which is a mixture of hydrocarbons and liquid hydrogen.

China's three other space launch centers are Jiuquan, Xichang and Taiyuan, all located inland, which will make rail transport of the CZ-5, more than 15 feet in diameter, very difficult. Wenchang was chosen partly because it is near a port and will have a new short rail link. Also, because Wenchang is close to the equator, launch rockets need less fuel to achieve orbit, so they carry larger payloads.

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