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2018-05-17 10:30:13

A Beijing-based space startup has become the first private company in China to launch a rocket carrying a payload, marking an important milestone for the country’s aerospace sector.

The 9-meter, 7,200-kilogram Chongqing Liangjiang Star was launched at 7:33 a.m. on Thursday from an undisclosed location in Northwest China, according to a statement the rocket’s developer, OneSpace, sent to Sixth Tone. The craft reached a peak altitude of 38.7 kilometers and a top speed of nearly 2,000 meters per second.

Five minutes after its launch, Chongqing Liangjiang Star returned to Earth, where OneSpace collected the debris for further research, the company said in its statement.

Contrary to many headlines on Thursday morning, this is not the first time a private Chinese company has developed and successfully launched a rocket. In April, another Beijing startup, i-Space, launched a rocket on the island province of Hainan. However, OneSpace is promoting its latest accomplishment as the first successful launch of a rocket carrying a payload — the weight of which it has not disclosed.

Once limited to deep-pocketed state-owned enterprises, China’s aerospace sector is becoming increasingly crowded, with more private companies entering the market as the central government loosens industry-related policies. In November 2014, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced that it would allow private companies to build and launch satellites. And two years later, a government-issued white paper explicitly encouraged private investment in China’s previously closed space sector.

The policy shift has inspired a flood of private enterprises eager to become the Chinese equivalent of SpaceX. Founded in August 2015, OneSpace has raised nearly 500 million yuan ($78.5 million) from venture capitalists. In an interview with CNN before today’s launch, OneSpace’s founder and CEO, Shu Chang, likened his company’s progress to SpaceX in its early years.

However, given that Chinese-built rockets have yet to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, OneSpace and its domestic peers still have a long way to go if they hope to propel themselves to the same level as SpaceX. In February, the American company, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, sent the world’s most powerful rocket into space — carrying an electric sports car produced by Musk’s other company, Tesla.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A screenshot from state broadcaster China Central Television shows the Chongqing Liangjiang Star rocket blasting off at an undisclosed location in Northwest China, May 17, 2018.)