China commercial space launch expands marketing through live streaming
By Wu Lei
KZ 1A rocket. /Courtesy: CASIC

KZ 1A rocket. /Courtesy: CASIC

Have you ever thought it would be possible to buy a 40-million-yuan or 5.6-million-U.S.-dollar commercial rocket in an e-commerce platform?

Well, that happened on April 1. China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) joined Taobao, China's largest e-commerce platform, and successfully sold out its Kuaizhou-1A or KZ-1A carrier rocket.

KZ-1A is a low-cost solid-fuel carrier rocket with high reliability and a short preparation period. The rocket, developed by a company under the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, is mainly used to launch low-orbit microsatellites.

CASIC staffer Cao Meng joined the livestreaming and introduced rocket launch services. /Taobao screenshot

CASIC staffer Cao Meng joined the livestreaming and introduced rocket launch services. /Taobao screenshot

A live show or a new marketing model for rocket launch?

At 20:45 Wednesday night, Taobao live streamer Viya started to sell the KZ-1 rocket launch service for about 40 million yuan. Just around five minutes later, over 800 people have placed 500,000 yuan down payment. 

Cao Meng, a professional staff from CASIC, introduced the package service, which includes rocket launch, tailor-made rocket body painting, and launch site visiting. 

Many say this live streaming promotion is just like a reality show, and Taobao, Viya, and the KZ team all have their own plans.

Taobao needs more hot topics to boost its users; Viya also hopes to sell new items to keep her reputation; and the KZ team wishes to enhance public awareness by joining live streaming in a grand way, since in late April, CASIC plans to launch some new satellites aboard the KZ1A carrier rocket.

Established in 2016, KZ rocket company has finished eight commercial rocket launches. Cao Meng said they hope to innovate their marketing strategies to work with other companies, attracting more people to their products and services.

The SQX-1 Y1, developed by i-Space, is a four-stage small commercial carrier rocket. /VCG

The SQX-1 Y1, developed by i-Space, is a four-stage small commercial carrier rocket. /VCG

Over 100 private commercial space companies in China

Space industry used to be dominated by state-owned giants in China, but in recent years, more Chinese private space companies have joined the field. A market report showed that China has seen over 100 registered private companies in the commercial space industry by the end of 2018.

Some of the well-known names are i-Space, ZeroG Lab, and Onespace. I-Space became the first private Chinese firm to successfully launch a rocket into orbit on June 26, 2019.

The rocket's body has a maximum diameter of 1.4 meters, length of 20.8 meters and takeoff weight of 31 tonnes. It has a lift capability of sending 260 kg of payload to 500 km high sun-synchronous orbit.

I-Space is among 20-plus commercial space enterprises based in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone or E-town. These newcomers mainly focus on research, development, and design of rockets and satellites for commercial use.

Experts say a group of scientists, who previously worked in state-owned aerospace companies, are now working for private firms, adopting a more flexible way to explore space.

China's first privately-developed carrier rocket ZQ-1 fails to enter the earth's orbit after lift-off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, October 27, 2018. /VCG

China's first privately-developed carrier rocket ZQ-1 fails to enter the earth's orbit after lift-off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, October 27, 2018. /VCG

The market is huge, but the challenges are also high

In China, State-owned space firms are mainly responsible for the country's major space missions like manned space missions and lunar missions. But with more market demand for commercial satellites, private firms have come to fill the gap.

Data shows the global space economy exceeded 400 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, driven primarily by the commercial space sector.

While Chinese private firms have also experienced many failures in recent years. OneSpace, a China-based private space company, failed to send its satellite into space via their self-developed carrier rocket on March 28, 2019. Commercial rocket ZQ-1 developed by another privately-owned company – Landspace – went wrong at the third-stage separation in 2018.

In June 2019, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, and the Central Military Commission's Equipment Development Department issued a regulation to manage and boost the development of the commercial space launch industry, a move private players expect to foster a prosperous market and sustainable growth.

China has been encouraging private investors to participate in the commercial space industry, i-Space's vice president Xie Fang said private space companies can help lower costs and increase the efficiency of space activities, accelerating space technological development.