The next stop of commercial aerospace: speed, industry chain and satellite internet

Beijing time September 15 news, recently, the private rocket company Blue Arrow Aerospace Technology Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Blue Arrow Aerospace”) disclosed that the company has completed 1.2 billion yuan C+ round of financing.This private commercial aerospace company targeting medium and large liquid rocket products has received more than 1.8 billion yuan in investment in the past 12 months.

The rapid advancement of Blue Arrow Aerospace is not alone. The development of China’s commercial aerospace sector began with the “Guiding Opinions of the State Council on Encouraging Social Investment in Investment and Financing Mechanisms in Key Innovation Fields” issued by the State Council in November 2014. The following year, the “National Civil Space Infrastructure Medium and Long-term Development Plan (2015-2025)” was issued, which clearly encouraged private enterprises to develop commercial aerospace. Therefore, 2015 was called the first year of China’s commercial aerospace.

Since then, China’s commercial aerospace team has grown rapidly. As of the end of 2019, the market size has risen from 376.42 billion yuan in 2015 to 836.23 billion yuan, with a compound annual growth rate of 22.1%. With the acceleration of the development of domestic and foreign commercial aerospace companies, the industry has begun to face more fierce competition and more detailed problems. Even if the prospects are broad and rich in capital, my country’s commercial aerospace companies still need to face no small challenges: While fierce competition at home and abroad, it is also necessary to develop a more complete supply chain and industrial chain in a shorter time.

Photo courtesy of respondents

Photo courtesy of respondents

The blue ocean of commercial aerospace

On April 1st of this year, Wei Ya launched the live broadcast on time at 8:8 pm. Only half an hour later, a “product” that surprised everyone-Rockets appeared in the live broadcast. “The live broadcast of Wei Ya has begun to sell rockets.” At one time, the audience thought it was a tricky April Fool’s Day live broadcast. As a result, the “Big Rocket” with a deposit of up to 500,000 was robbed in seconds, and more than 800 “big customers” waved. Take it, call it cheap.

In the public’s impression, the rocket should belong to the “national team” to operate, so this live broadcast may be the first time they heard of “commercial rocket”, but in fact, China’s commercial aerospace history can be traced back to 2015 . In July 2015, the “Beijing-2” remote sensing satellite constellation composed of three high-resolution satellites was launched in India. This is the first civilian commercial remote sensing satellite project approved by the Chinese government, marking the beginning of China’s commercial aerospace industry.

After five years of development, the process of China’s commercial aerospace industry has entered the fast lane. The “Blue Book of China’s Aerospace Science and Technology Activities (2019)” shows that in 2019, China has developed and launched more than 40 commercial satellites, mainly micro-nano satellites under 100 kilograms, covering communications, remote sensing, and technology experiments.

Chen Xianfeng, deputy chief engineer of the Tianyi Research Institute, said that with the rapid development of the domestic satellite industry, the demand for launches has also grown rapidly. The current number of commercial rocket launches cannot fully meet these needs, and “it almost needs to be doubled.”

Established in 2016, the business of Tianyi Research Institute is mainly for scientists, research institutes, enterprises and individuals at home and abroad, providing them with space science experiments and technical verification services, and has a number of scientific experiments and remote sensing small satellites in orbit. According to Chen Xianfeng, it is currently difficult for satellite companies to obtain launch schedules within a short period of time, at least half a year or more. This is an urgent problem for satellite companies and rocket companies.

For commercial rocket companies like Blue Arrow, the next step is to improve the supply chain and infrastructure to meet the ever-increasing launch needs. The funds from this round of financing by Blue Arrow Aerospace will also be used for further construction and improvement in these areas. Blue Arrow Aerospace CEO Zhang Changwu said: “Our core strategy is to not only solve the first flight test of the liquid rocket in the next two years, but also solve the mass production problem of the rocket in the future commercialization process.”

New topics in the next five years: batch production, cost reduction and capacity enhancement

“Batch production” is a word frequently mentioned by Zhang Changwu, and Blue Arrow Aerospace’s intention to deploy an intelligent manufacturing center in Zhejiang is also based on this. He believes that from the perspective of understanding the industry, the nature of commercial aerospace is actually a manufacturing-intensive industry. Therefore, the mass production capacity of rockets is an important factor to be considered from the early stage of design, but in fact mass production capacity Formation requires a long process.

“How to support the mass production of future products through a wider range of industrialization facilities? This is a core problem that the entire industry needs to solve at this stage.” Zhang Changwu said, “We are also walking on two legs, while building ourselves Our core key capabilities include our key equipment, key testing capabilities, and these plant facilities. On the other hand, we are also actively cultivating some of our upstream supporting suppliers. After the development of the past few years, I think the whole The upstream industries are still maturing and can support the formation of our batch production capacity in the next two to three years.”

Cost reduction is also an important factor in planning batch production. Blue Arrow currently uses the most simplified and standardized design to reduce costs. “In fact, this is not fully reflected in the original aerospace products, including the use of universal design to construct the entire rocket power system; including a rocket body diameter and unified pipeline valves, which are very important for reducing costs and improving reliability. Important product concept.” Zhang Changwu revealed.

The Zhuque-2 liquid oxygen methane launch vehicle constellation network is deployed in orbit.  Blue Arrow Aerospace revealed that the Suzaku 2 will be launched next year.  Photo courtesy of respondents

The Zhuque-2 liquid oxygen methane launch vehicle constellation network is deployed in orbit. Blue Arrow Aerospace revealed that the Suzaku 2 will be launched next year. Photo courtesy of respondents

Next, Blue Arrow also hopes to increase its capacity, which is also an important part of meeting market demand. Blue Arrow’s medium and large-scale liquid oxygen methane rocket is to meet the market demand for mass launch of low-orbit satellites. On the one hand, increasing the number of satellites that can be carried in a single launch is itself a good way to reduce costs. On the other hand, the development direction of the satellite company will directly affect the development plan of the rocket company. In the process of commercial networking of low-orbit satellites, the scale of satellites will basically be two to three hundred kilograms, or even larger satellites. The function of batch networking requires very high rocket capacity. Medium and large liquid rockets are Corresponding products to meet this demand.

Aerospace technology expert Huang Zhicheng is very optimistic about the development prospects of private rockets. Most of China’s private rocket companies were established after 2015, but strong rocket companies have been established for more than 60 years, and the status of state-owned aerospace companies represented by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is still difficult to shake in a short time. The supporting facilities and scientific and technological personnel of state-owned aerospace companies are very mature. Facilities such as wind tunnel test bench shakers are costly and it is difficult for private companies to build in a short time.

More diversified and abundant capital injection may provide certain assistance to the solution of this problem. Judging from the financing situation of Blue Arrow Aerospace this time, investors come from more diverse fields than before, such as Sequoia Capital China Fund, Country Garden Venture Capital, Huzhou Saiyuan Government Fund, Lightspeed China and so on.

Satellite Internet: a new battlefield for commercial aerospace

According to statistics, there are currently more than 160 commercial aerospace companies in my country, involving more than 15 A-share companies. Among them, many companies including Blue Arrow Aerospace have completed multiple rounds of financing in the past few years. In April this year, satellite Internet was designated as one of the “new infrastructure” information infrastructures by the National Development and Reform Commission. According to People’s Daily Online, the industry believes that this will mark the first year of my country’s satellite Internet construction in 2020.

The Zhuque-2 liquid oxygen methane carrier rocket.  Photo courtesy of respondents

The Zhuque-2 liquid oxygen methane carrier rocket. Photo courtesy of respondents

Communication is one of the three main application directions of satellite services in addition to remote sensing and navigation. Satellite Internet, which is based on satellite access to Internet services, is different from the model in which terrestrial networks rely on base stations. Satellite Internet is more “three-dimensional”. Huang Hua, deputy director of the Global Low-Earth Satellite Mobile Communications and Space Internet System Center of the Fifth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, described satellite Internet in an interview: “It is like moving a base station on the ground to space, and each satellite is a mobile base station. “. For ordinary users, satellite Internet means faster, better experience and cheaper network services. Building a low-orbit broadband communication constellation has become an important part of the new round of space competition.

SpaceX’s “Starlink” program launched in 2015 will put 1,600 satellites into orbit within 2020. In addition, institutions including Amazon, Boeing and other international giants are actively constructing low-orbit constellations, hoping to seize the opportunity to build satellite Internet. The difficulty and high cost of construction also make most of the satellite Internet construction projects concentrated. In the hands of a few head institutions.

The Galaxy Space First Star independently developed by Galaxy Aerospace (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd. was successfully launched in January this year and entered the scheduled orbit. This is also my country’s first low-orbit broadband communication satellite with a communication capacity of 16Gbps. The relevant person in charge of Galaxy Aerospace stated that China needs and is accelerating the low-cost mass production of satellites. The rapid development of China’s aerospace industry chain also provides strong support for commercial aerospace. In the process of R&D and production of Galaxy Aerospace’s first star, industrial-grade or automotive-grade products are used for innovation in some components. Under the premise of realizing the same function, the cost is greatly reduced, and the “low cost” and “mass production” are also It will be the key word in the future research and development process of Galaxy Aerospace.

Blue Arrow Aerospace Hot Test Platform.  Photo courtesy of respondents

Blue Arrow Aerospace Hot Test Platform. Photo courtesy of respondents

In addition to the development in their respective links, the formation of a more complete and mature commercial aerospace ecological chain is also an important goal that the industry needs to achieve faster. Chen Xianfeng revealed that in addition to rocket capacity enhancement, launch scheduling, and a more mature supply chain, in fact, more mature data services will also have an impact on the industry chain. Providing better data services directly to end industry users will affect the entire industry chain. The pulling effect is self-evident. At the same time, the improvement of data processing level can also improve the quality of service provided by satellite companies.

There is not much time left for the industry to accomplish these goals. According to calculations, the Earth’s low-Earth orbit can accommodate about 60,000 satellites. After intensive launches by various countries in recent years, the remaining “places” have become increasingly tight. According to the “New Infrastructure” China Satellite Internet Industry Development Research White Paper issued by CCID Consulting’s Internet of Things Industry Research Center, it is estimated that by 2029, there will be little space available in low earth orbit. As a result, competition among satellite companies in various countries has become more intense. The “satellite Internet” is clearly included in the “new infrastructure”. For my country’s commercial aerospace industry, especially private commercial aerospace companies, it is not only a rare opportunity, but may also face greater challenges.