China needs to cut commercial space costs to compete with India

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/20 0:08:39

Over the past few days, some people have keenly followed the debate on whether China has lagged behind India in its space race. India's successful launch of a record-breaking 104 satellites into orbit could serve as a wake-up call for China's commercial space industry and there are a number of lessons for the country to learn.

Of the 104 satellites, 96 belong to the US, which makes India a fierce competitor in the global market for commercial rocket launch services. The South Asian nation's achievements are largely driven by its low price advantage, a weak point for China's commercial space sector.

Although China is developing rapidly into a major player in the space industry, the country's commercial space sector is still in its infancy. Many of the world's satellites are made in or use parts from the US. However, satellites and components made in the US are prohibited from being exported to China, making it very difficult for China to get contracts for commercial satellite launches with other countries.

Its independent research and indigenous manufacturing of parts and components for satellites will help China bypass restrictions imposed by the US. China has made great progress in the field but its customers are mainly from developing countries. China is likely to continue to focus on developing countries where price will be an important factor in customers' decisions of choosing launch partners.

Competition with India for commercial space launches may be inevitable, and the most urgent action needed for China to expand its market share is to reduce the cost of putting satellites into orbit.

China's space sector, developing rapidly as an important part of the country's defense industry, has focused less on cost control in the past few decades. The country should make a fundamental transformation to allow some institutions in its space sector to run like a business instead of as government-backed research bodies.

ChinaRocket Co was established last year to ramp up the commercialization of China's space sector. The firm has pledged a reduction in the cost of rocket launches by at least 30 percent through various measures including business model innovation. The Chinese commercial space sector has lagged behind the global market and now the country has to learn from the experiences acquired by other countries, India included, on how to commercialize rocket launches.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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