Orienspace launches most powerful rocket by private Chinese firm

BEIJING (Reuters) -Beijing startup Orienspace on Thursday successfully launched the most powerful rocket developed by the Chinese private sector, paving the way for more commercial launches – a realm traditionally dominated by the country’s state agencies.

The Gravity-1 rocket blasted off from a ship off the coast of eastern Shandong province and delivered three remote-sensing satellites into orbit, Orienspace said in a statement.

Founded in 2020 by veterans of China’s state space agencies, Orienspace had planned the first launch of Gravity-1 for the second half of 2023.

The rocket can send a payload of up to 6,500 kg (14,330 lb) into low earth orbit, making it the most powerful launch vehicle developed by a private Chinese enterprise.

Gravity-1’s debut may help pave the way for more commercial launches of satellites into low- and mid-altitude orbits in the nascent private sector. Orienspace’s CEO said last year that the company had already secured orders for the launches of hundreds of satellites.

Gravity-1 can place as many as 30 satellites into orbit in a single launch, according to Orienspace. The company also says it can organise a launch in under seven days and in some cases, just 24 hours.

Gravity-1’s ability to be launched from a mobile sea platform increases the number of potential launch sites. China launched its first commercial rocket at sea – a Long March 11 developed by the state – in 2020.

Sea launches would reduce the risk of rocket stages endangering inhabited areas as they fall back to Earth.

Gravity 1’s inaugural flight made Orienspace the fifth private Chinese firm to operate its own carrier rocket, following i-Space, Galactic Energy, Space Pioneer and LandSpace, according to Chinese state media.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)