China’s commercial space hub opening clashes with exploding rocket mishap

China is aggressively expanding its space capabilities with the construction of a new launch site, the Hainan launch centre, which spans over 54 hectares (133 acres). The aim is to offer both domestic and international rocket and satellite launch services, contributing to the development of China’s commercial space technology. The centre, which began construction in July 2022, has already completed key infrastructure in a short span of 726 days.

The Hainan launch centre is part of China’s broader ambition to build its own satellite constellations, comparable to SpaceX’s Starlink. The facility is also reportedly working with rocket developers to conduct experiments related to vertical landings and the recovery of rockets from the sea.

In 2023, China is expected to carry out 36 commercial rocket launches, accounting for 39% of the country’s total, according to the latest blue book released by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The Chinese commercial space market has seen significant growth since 2015, with an estimated annual growth rate of over 20% from 2017 to 2024, and is projected to reach 2.34 trillion yuan (US$326 billion) this year.

However, a recent accident at a facility in Gongyi county, Henan province, involving the Tianlong-3 rocket, which is similar in design and performance to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, has raised concerns. The rocket unexpectedly blasted off during a static fire test, crashing and exploding into flames. Although there were no casualties, the incident is likely to lead to increased caution from operators and more regulatory oversight in the commercial rocket industry. Experts believe that the accident, which occurred relatively close to a densely populated area, will prompt authorities to insist on safety reviews and tighter regulation of launches in the future.

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