China’s surging private space industry is out to challenge the US

China’s surging private space industry is out to challenge the US

An explosion of space startups in China is supercharging tech innovation, opening new markets around the world, and expanding the country’s influence.

China’s space program might have been slowed by the pandemic in 2020, but it certainly didn’t stop. The year’s highlights included sending a rover to Mars, bringing moon rocks back to Earth, and testing out the next-generation crewed vehicle that should take taikonauts into orbit—and possibly to the moon—one day. 

But there were a few achievements the rest of the world might not have noticed. One was the November 7 launch of Ceres-1, a new type of rocket that, at just 62 feet in height, is capable of taking 770 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit. The launch sent the Tianqi 11 communications satellite into space.

At first glance, the Ceres-1 launch might seem unremarkable. Ceres-1, however, wasn’t built and launched by China’s national program. It was a commercial rocket—only the second from a Chinese company ever to go into space. And the launch happened less than three years after the company was founded. The achievement is a milestone for China’s fledgling—but rapidly growing—private space industry, an increasingly critical part of the country’s quest to dethrone the US as the world’s preeminent space power.