CAS Space crew suborbital vehicle in flight. (Credit: CAS Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Two Chinese companies – CAS Space and Space Transportation – are pursuing the suborbital tourism market, with the former closely replicating Blue Origin’s fully reusable New Shepard vehicle and the latter developing a winged vehicle that can be adapted for point-to-point hypersonic travel. point-to-point between distant countries. locations on Earth.

CAS Space, known as Guangzhou Zhongke Aerospace Exploration Technology Co., Ltd., is developing a rocket with a reusable stage that lands under its own power, topped by a capsule that descends under three parachutes.

The CAS Space Vehicle, designated ZK-6, will be powered by five Xuanyuan rocket engines while New Shepard has a single BE-3 engine. ZK-6 will have seven seats for passengers and four windows; New Shepard has room for six people, each with their own window to look out at Earth and space.

CAS Space plans to conduct the vehicle’s initial unmanned flight test in 2023, a delay from an earlier plan to fly this year. Commercial service will continue after the flight test program is completed.

CAS Spacecraft suborbital vehicle on launch pad. (Credit: CAS Space)

Last month, the company announced a strategic cooperation framework agreement with China Tourism Group Travel Service Company (CTS Travel) to work together on the development of the space tourism market. CTS Travel is a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Tourism Group that has about 3,000 branches nationwide and 60 branches in 28 overseas countries and regions.

CAS Space is a commercial spinoff of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which partially owns the company. The ZK-6 is part of a family of rockets the company plans to serve the suborbital and small-to-medium launch markets. On July 27, the company launched six spacecraft into orbit on the first flight of the ZK-1A (Lijian-1) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Tianxing Hypersonic Vehicle (Credit: Space Transportation)

In the wings and an engine

Space Transportation, otherwise known as Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology, is making progress with its program. The company said on its website that it has conducted six test flights this year as part of its Tianxing program to develop suborbital and hypersonic vehicles. The launches were split evenly between the Tianxing I and Tianxing II rockets.

Space Transport’s goal is to develop a suborbital space plane capable of transporting tourists on suborbital flights. The winged system is very different from Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, which is currently in flight test.

Tianxing suborbital space plane and hypersonic launch vehicle development plan. (Credit: Space Transportation)

A larger Space Transport vehicle would be a high-speed transport that would fly between distant places on Earth in less than two hours. The image below shows the evolution of the planned test vehicles.

The company released very little information about the six launches it made this year. It’s not even clear where the flights took place, although Wikipedia indicates that they may have taken place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Space Transport has published the following development schedule:

2019-2022: technological verifications through flight tests;
2023: test flight of suborbital space tourism prototype;
2025: manned flight of space tourism vehicle;
2028: global hypersonic vehicle prototype flight test; AND
2030: completion of the full-scale global hypersonic vehicle.

Flight profile of the Tianxing hypersonic vehicle. (Credit: Space Transportation)

Space Transportation has raised $60.6 million in three funding rounds. The company announced a Series A round in August 2021 that raised $46.3 million. Matrix Partners China and Shanghai Guosheng Group led the round with new investors Wuyuefeng Capital, Xiamen Feiyu Yinghang and Shanghai Huygens.

Previous investors Source Code Capital, Volcanic Stone Capital, Keke Li Venture Capital, Yuanhe Yuandian and Zhencheng Investment also contributed to the Series A round. The five investors were part of a $14.3 million seed round that was announced in December 2019.

Source Capital led an angel round that was announced in March 2019.

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