Watching SpaceX’s magpies, private rocket companies say it’s “too hard”.

In the global epidemic, violence, ethnic divisions of the “culvert”, a series of space events to look up to the stars of the human longing to bring once again. SpaceX launched 58 Starlink satellites in one breath after its first successful launch, and yesterday there was good news from Beidou, with the last networked satellite ready for “high-altitude operation”, and beidou satellite systems are finally able to get rid of their reliance on GPS and provide all-day, high-precision positioning, navigation, timing and other services around the world.

SpaceX’s successful manned launch, in particular, is a landmark – nine years later, the United States can finally put astronauts into orbit on its own with a low-cost rocket, and more than 30 years of commercial space development, a private company has finally made the dreams of space travel and Mars migration less remote.

“This is probably the most moving moment of the year,” said one space enthusiast who stayed up all night, sharing on social platforms that the world of 2020 is so chaotic that humans are constantly heading into the abyss, but there are still a handful of people who are leading humans in the search for new habitats.

“This may be the most comfortable space trip”, the domestic private space entrepreneur Hu Zhenyu and friends are discussing a data indicator – the thrust in the Dragon spacecraft adjustable, from the average person’s tolerance of 5G down to 3G, which means that ordinary people into space of the physical requirements of reduced, as long as enough money, there is hope in life to go to space around.

For weeks, SpaceX’s topics have been the perfect source of public talk and social literature – the stories of SpaceX and “Iron Man” Musk have been repeatedly featured; the materials and technology used by rockets and Dragon spacecraft have been repeatedly uncovered by space operators and enthusiasts; and even the small Dragon Man toys in the spacecraft, which serve as “zero-gravity prompters”, have become explosive, and purchase pages have been squeezed into paralysis.

Moving, another expectation became urgent: When was the “Chinese version” of SpaceX?

First test water

At home, building rockets and satellites has always been a matter of “national team”. Until 2012, the government advocated “military-civilian integration” and introduced policies to allow private companies to participate in rocket and satellite development and launch.

Prior to this, only a very small number of private enterprises have tried to enter commercial spaceflight. In the 1990s, the first generation of private entrepreneurs and former richest men saw business opportunities for satellite operations. He founded The South German Commercial Satellite Company in 1992 and plans to launch 60 communications satellites within three years to “cover the Earth”.

Ge You in the film “Don’t See No” played By Liu Yuan has a whimsical idea: the Himalayas blasted out a mouth, the introduction of the Indian Ocean’s wet heating flow, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau into a land of fish and rice is within reach! The idea comes from the idea. He became legendary for his work as a light industrial substitute aircraft, launched satellites, and developed three major events in Manchuria. Nande employee badge printed his mantra – “there is nothing in the world can not do, only unexpected things.”

It was even crazier than Musk’s, but Musk succeeded. Operating satellites in the 1990s was also a struggle.

Great Wall of China Was the only company in China at the time to launch commercial satellites, but its main focus was to market the country’s established Long March rockets and launch international satellite orders. Mo one of them had to talk to the Great Wall Company, and later because of policy restrictions, had to go to Russia for help.

Russia was chosen in part because it had done business with the Russians to sell planes, and the cost was lower than in the U.S. market, where satellites cost only a third of the time and satellites took a year less than the U.S. But the first satellite, the Nande Horizon, failed.

Subsequently, two “navigational” satellites were successfully launched, mainly for radio, television. Just as Nande was preparing to launch its third satellite, the country stepped up its macro-adjustment efforts, tightening monetary policy, and paying off 220 million yuan in advance of the loan. One side of the debt tight, one side of the satellite business cost less, the money chain broke, and finally jailed.

Nande, a private company that tried commercial space ingons earlier, also stopped there, and the “national team” in the same period of space commercialization progress also encountered bottlenecks.

Throughout the 1990s, China undertook nearly 7% to 9% of the commercial launch market. Seeing the rapid growth of the launch business, Great Wall and hughes of the United States cooperation in the Aussie launch project but a major accident, the United States quickly organized a team of experts to investigate, in 1999 released the “Kausk Report”, said that China in commercial launches, stealing U.S. missile technology, the United States national security threat.

As a result, China was included in the ITAR (U.S. Arms Trade Regulations) list by the U.S., and can no longer purchase and launch satellites with U.S. space parts and technology on a global scale. A paper treaty that left the “national team” with almost zero international satellite launch orders continued until 2005, when China adjusted its strategy to shift to third world countries to provide launch services and export whole-star technology before gradually gaining a small market share.

One of the left arm of the right arm – Feng Lun, later wrote an article summarizing the past, he thought that the business logic of the moone is not untrue, is his near-crazy logic and the pace of change in the social system is not consistent enough, and the logic of institutional change conflict.

Feng Lun was not involved in the satellite business blueprint, in 1992 self-supportportal set up the Wantong Group, into the real estate wealth movement, but many years later, he also invested in commercial space, not so related to the main business, and in 2018 launched the first private satellite , “Feng Ma Niu” one.

The turning point came in 2016, when Feng went to NASA twice, saw rockets, spacecraft components, and experienced the zero-gravity life of astronauts in the training module, and he found that in the United States, it seems common to go to heaven, to the moon, to Mars, and to easily meet astronauts who have been to space four times, talking about carrying the space shuttle, like a high-speed rail, airplane. These are out of reach at home.

A lot happened that year.

The 76-year-old’s release from prison came on the same day that Musk, the founder of SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, was speaking out about his new goal at the 67th International Astronautical Congress, which will send ordinary people to Mars within 10 years and complete a million Mars migration programs in 100 years, setting off social media.

Commercial aviation, which was not opened in the 1990s, has been worked on by Musk for 20 years. The old acquaintance Feng Lun also realized that the good business that had fancied, but also to the door a foot of the moment.

Invisible air vents

2015 by the industry believes that the private commercial space year. Previously, few private commercial space companies, although set up, but also did not boldly to the market to reveal their ambitions, are with a try mentality in the exploration of the invisible boundaries.

Even the Internet company’s top executives are concerned about the commercial space market around 2015.

Li Yanhong in the two meetings of the proposal, Ali, Tencent’s capital are also looking for suitable targets, Ma Yun also consulted space experts: Is it possible to find a few academicians or master from the national team? The answer he gets is: unlikely.

Bringing commercial space to the public earlier was Hu Zhenyu, the founder of a controversial private rocket company. 90 years later, he set up the pilot space in 2013, he threatened to do their own rockets, send satellites, the result is really from the national team small orders, as well as investors attention.

In 2014, he was also the media rush to report on the “rocket genius juvenile”, “90 after the entrepreneurial representative”, the results of a year later, a number of reports that he “do not speak the rules”, “lie show” and so on, public opinion quickly reversed, once also affected the financing process of the space. It was not until 2017 that it received tens of millions of YUAN A-round financings from Changrun Gold Control, Fenglun’s Royal Wind Investment, and Pricewatergate Capital.

At the end of last year, Hu Zhenyu stepped down as CEO, and The CTO Chulong flew in, amid rumors that the company was on the verge of a break-up and that employees had left. Hu Zhenyu in an interview with Phoenix Network Technology explained that the company’s change of manager is not the requirements of investors, shareholders, but in the docking of new institutions, do not want to explain the past experience over and over again, after adjustment of their division of labor has not changed much, they are still responsible for the company’s operation sand abroad, the company has now received a new round of financing.

“Entrepreneurship still has a certain chance,” Hu Zhenyu said, the initial start-up, just out of like, confidence in the market, coupled with the face of the graduation season, do not want to go to the system honest work, too slow growth. “The beginning is just a very vague feeling, this thing can be done, conditional to do, like to do, the market needs to be safe, low-cost products.” Moreover, there is not much to learn from. Positioning, financial planning, the future market size, are in the entrepreneurial process only gradually refined. “

In 2013, some local governments began to focus on the innovation and entrepreneurial economy, such as Shenzhen, Beijing and other innovative areas, the establishment of a special aviation industry fund. When Hu Zhenyu registered to lead the space flight in Shenzhen, he heard that some planning documents on aerospace were about to be issued.

Some people in the system are starting to sit still. “They might think that a kid in his 90s can do it, we have so much accumulation in the industry, why can’t we come out and try it?” “Hu Zhenyu remembers that in 2015, companies such as Zero Space and Blue Arrow Aerospace were established, both of which predate the key policies issued at the end of the year, the National Civil Space Infrastructure Medium- and Long-Term Development Plan (2015-2025).

The document’s introduction means that the state explicitly allows capital to start investing in the development of satellites, rockets and other aerospace industries.

There are many reasons for the loosening of the policy. In the past in the progress of space commercialization, the “national team” is to ensure that civil, scientific research and other national planned launch missions, the pursuit of safety, reliability first, so the formation of a lot of redundant processes, resulting in high cost of launching rockets, satellites, so some people hope to use some innovative, industrial-grade product ideas to reduce efficiency, to achieve high stability and cost-effective.

And around 2015, the global satellite Internet market has taken another turn for the most – Samsung, OneWeb, SpaceX, Boeing and others have announced the launch of thousands of small satellites to form a communications network. SpaceX is deploying its Starlink program at a rate of 60 satellites every two to three weeks, and is expected to be able to deploy the first 1,600 satellites this year and begin commercial service. For the national team, under many restrictions, it is still difficult to get international orders, so the commercialization process of private companies to accelerate.

Prior to 2015, only aerospace science and technology groups and aerospace science and technology companies that can build rockets and satellites. Since then, a large wave of private commercial space companies have been set up, the number of commercial space enterprises in China is more than 160, involving more than 15 A-share companies, in satellite manufacturing, launch, operation, application and other four links, respectively, there are 36, 22, 39, 44.

In just five years, the first private companies to claim to be rocket-launched have become a back-and-forth. “Two years ago, there were no more than 100 companies that launched rockets and satellites, and there were 70 or 80, and now there are probably more than 20 left,” said Zhang Ze, who conducted reliability tests at the Fifth Research Institute under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Although commercial space is widely regarded as promising, “but in fact is a big investment, slow-impact things, perhaps social benefits far greater than economic benefits,” Zhang Ze said, the first step of the “opener” is likely to become “cannon fodder.”¬†Zhang Ze also jumped out of state-owned enterprises in 2016 to start supporting services around the rocket, such as testing, research and development, operation promotion and so on. At that time, he came out to start a business or full of confidence, after all, do not do satellites, rockets, just do peripheral services, small risk, the market also lack of professional testing, operation and promotion of the company, demand. But the results are not satisfactory, now over 40 years old Zhang Ze, can only maintain a little more than normal work income.

In the face of ideals and blood, investors are still cautious about paying. In the first five years of private commercial space companies, the capital investment is far less than the money in the mouth of shared bicycles, artificial intelligence, big data, and so on, and may not share 1/10 of the total financing of a single bike.

Li Xin, a former investor in the military industry, also saw opportunities in the commercial space sector around 2015. He and the team did nearly 2 months of research, visited the rocket assembly department, the military, software production and other fields of practitioners, after consulting, it took nearly 5 months to finalize the first investment of the private commercial space company – zero space, but also determined that the “private team” and “national team” is complementary rather than positive competition.

Choose zero space, Li Xin admitted that in fact, the commercial operation of each company is not clear, but the founder of zero-yuan space is also an investor origin, the start-up will have a more comprehensive consideration, in addition to its seed wheel has the investment of the University of Kazakhstan, equivalent to the endorsement of government departments.

Li Xin believes that capital dare not easily enter commercial space, there are two main reasons, first, space technology is too strong nuclear, high threshold, the general investors do not understand the industry;

“It’s not that attractive to investors who are used to being quick-to-reach and profitable in the internet. Li Xin said that although the annual attention of capital is rising, but commercial space is still an invisible air.

From the second half of 2018, Li Xin did not pay much attention to the first wave of commercial space start-up, he believes that the earliest wave of talent absorption, team building, capital investment, have been formed, “the pattern has basically been determined.” Now his Beijing-based Dadu Energy Fund Management Co., Ltd. is already looking at second-generation commercial space companies, such as deep space communications, asteroid mining and other outer space exploration projects.

“The future trend of commercial space, I believe that private space companies will also have a place, ” Li Xin admitted, but now has not seen the company can run out, because the private company’s technology reserves are far from being able to participate in the big order competition. “Now private space companies are doing a simple thing, is to put the system of things to do industrialization and commercialization. “

It’s impossible to re-cut.

Stars like SpaceX can’t “re-cut” at home and can only learn. This is almost a conclusion that practitioners, investors, etc. agree with.

“The first two years have been said by peers to surpass SpaceX in a few years, and it’s great not to be left far away now. “Hu Zhenyu doesn’t think there will be a national version of SpaceX in a short period of time.

When space expert Huang Zhicheng communicates with friends in the system, most people think that private commercial space to do some small rockets, small satellites is beneficial, but to do large rockets, large satellites or more difficult.

The government did not subsidize a penny, nor did it give a major contract. “Without big policy support, it is unlikely that a company like SpaceX will emerge in the short term, ” said Huang Zhicheng, who is now a private commercial space company that needs to innovate on its own and actively explore the market.

In the face of all kinds of current situation, sometimes Huang Zhicheng had to think of the popular words in the industry – China’s private space is a beautiful misunderstanding, two or three years later, now the private rocket, satellite company may also close down some, but not without the chance of success, “China’s private space future is bright, but the road may be a bit long.”

“Domestic commercial space flight is in its infancy, and its life cycle is still in its childhood. “Nine-Day MSI CEO Xie Tao said, with the satellite Internet into the “new infrastructure”, ushering in leapfrog development opportunities, can continue to improve satellite performance through technological innovation, reduce costs? Can it be enhanced in terms of original innovation? This is a problem with industry commonality.

Looking back at SpaceX’s success, there are three reasons for this – first, Musk, a boss who has achieved freedom of wealth in the Internet wave, has ambition and passion.

Musk started his career with Paypal, which turned to Internet start-ups, cashing in $165 million. So by the time he started a business like SpaceX and Tesla, he’s been free of wealth and not afraid of failure. Relatively speaking, domestic private commercial space companies will be more afraid of failure, once the launch failure, will be valued, can not get financing, it is difficult to survive.

Second, the help of the external environment, including the legacy of the Star Program, NASA’s strong support, a mature space talent development system, and so on.

SpaceX inherited many of the technology legacy of the 1990s Star Program and received a $1.5 billion order from NASA in 2008, which brought nasa back to SpaceX.

SpaceX, in the U.S., is also easily able to recruit space talent eager for innovation, and is now a large company with more than 6,000 people, while the country’s private commercial space companies have a maximum of more than 300.

Finally, at the strategic level, SpaceX’s rocket launch and Starlink program are actually the latest U.S. space strategy , near-Earth orbit to commercial space, with core research and development focusing on outer space exploration.

The essence of the near-Earth orbit market is to build a new generation of satellite communications infrastructure.

Since the 1990s, the idea of launching countless satellites in space to cover the global Internet communications signalhas has been tried by companies such as Motorola and Microsoft, but lost to fiber optic cables and ground base stations because of cost problems.

But today, as SpaceX’s launch costs fall, Starlink, which consists of a large number of low-orbit satellites launched in the sky, is more cost-effective than laying a large number of base stations on the ground. Data estimate that the SpaceX Starlink project is at least an order of magnitude lower than the cost of building a base station on the ground.

At this point, not only the “private team” is out of sight, “national team” is also catching up with difficulties. “My personal view is still very pessimistic, too late, ” Hu said. First of all, Starlink is a huge project, regardless of the number, the launch frequency, as long as SpaceX doesn’t have too many rollovers, the catch-up is likely to be almost zero. “

Based on Space’s 30 recyclable rockets per year, more than 1,600 to 1,800 satellites can be launched a year. But the cost of domestic rockets is still too high, coupled with whether the “national team” or “private team” in the Starlink plan to invest, did not get enough financial support, so that in the low-altitude Starlink start edifle late, slow start.

Hu Zhenyu mentioned that, that is, in the last two years, the country gradually introduced top-level planning to coordinate the overall body, the various interfaces, standards to unify, and then go to research and development, experiments, do bulk launch. “In the race for low-orbit communications resources, it is very likely that the United States has played tens of thousands of satellites, and China is the level of a few thousand.”

Compared to spaceX, which is ahead of the market and splashing money to create a market, the development of domestic commercial space flight is still market-driven. “Whether it is private commercial space or national space, must rely on satellite applications to drive development,” said Yang Jianzhong, executive secretary of Nanjing Satellite Applications Industry Association, such as Beidou, wind clouds, oceans, high scores, Tiantong these “national stars” are also the first market demand before the project.

The satellite market mainly has location services, remote sensing, communications, etc. , Yang Jianzhong introduced, the current location-based satellite market development is better, drip, the United States and so on are using the “Beidou satellite”;

In the field of private rockets, Interstellar Glory successfully launched the “Double Curve One” rocket on July 25, 2019, becoming the first private company in the world outside the United States to realize rocket orbiting, and is seen as a zero breakthrough for China’s private rocket companies;¬†“Satellite Internet tracks have been significantly accelerated by the new infrastructure policy. Specific to nine days MSI, in the satellite platform capacity significantly improved, further cost reduction, we are deploying bulk production lines, is expected to be completed in early 2021. Nine-Day MSI CEO Xie Tao said.

There is also a cry, is it possible for the Internet giants to enter commercial space?

“If Chinese Internet companies start investing in private space, there will be a new trend. Huang Zhicheng said, but at present Internet companies are still on the sidelines, because their main business is really far from building rockets, satellites, and secondly, from an investment point of view, commercial space may not be a good project, because the return time is long, high risk.

For example, Baidu does not care what rockets to send satellites to orbit, also do not care who is the satellite, the key is whether to get cheap map data. Huang Zhicheng is currently exposed to 100 degrees of venture capital, basically no interest in investing in commercial space.

Ali has only some cooperation at the business level, tencent in 2015 did invest in three commercial space companies, but all overseas projects. However, there are also domestic entrepreneurs such as Lei Jun and Li Shufu, have high hopes for commercial spaceflight and increase disinvestment.

This year’s global outbreak of the outbreak, but also make all industries are not good. The establishment of the national space industry base in Wuhan this year to produce 20 rockets, 120 satellites, an employee told Phoenix Network Technology, the first half of all kinds of projects are almost suspended, the capital chain also has problems, the introduction of many projects have been delayed.

Interstellar Glory, which was successfully derailed last year, was temporarily unable to make offline customer visits and turn-line communication during the outbreak. According to people familiar with the matter, interstellar glory will launch another “Hypercurve One” small solid launch vehicle with a unit price of 10 million yuan, according to people familiar with the matter.

Although no private rocket company launched a satellite in the first half of the year, there was no delay in research and development and testing. Star Glory has completed a number of large-scale and important node experiments at a test site on the outskirts of Beijing. The “Double Curve 2”, a multi-use launch vehicle, will also be launched in 2021.

When Interstellar Glory launched “Double Curve One” in Jiuquan last year, the industry was excited. A big data industry entrepreneur, the rocket recovery video with hot-blooded animation BGM, spontaneously spread to the ticket ring, WeChat group, in the scene to witness the rocket launch of the entire industry lamented: this launch is not only in saving the star glory themselves, but also in the rescue industry, if the star glory are beginning to fail, it will give the market and investors a signal, may now the domestic industrial system or can not develop private commercial space.

It’s really hard to recreate a national version of SpaceX. Looking back at the development of domestic commercial space, has been “national team” held, from 2015 after the emergence of “private team”, in the absence of a large amount of money, core technology, key talent, today’s “private team” just stumbled, it is difficult to compare with SpaceX.

But SpaceX has also explored a viable commercial path ahead of time. After the successful launch of the manned flight, Huang Zhicheng sent out several tweets – “This will force China’s private space enterprises to further reform.” The company’s management system and talent incentive mechanism, from the industrial revolution era, to the information revolution era,” “how to build China’s space field in any case, the new national system is imminent, can not just stairs ring. “