The Wider Image: China's start-ups go small in age of 'shoebox' satellites

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The Wider Image: China's start-ups go small in age of 'shoebox' satellites

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During initial tests of their 8.1-metre tall reusable rocket, Chinese engineers from LinkSpace, a start-up led by China's youngest space entrepreneur, used a Kevlar tether to ensure its safe return. Just in case. But when the Beijing-based company's prototype, called NewLine Baby, successfully took off and landed last week for the second time in two months, no tether was needed.

The 1.5-tonne rocket hovered 40 metres above the ground before descending back to its concrete launch pad after 30 seconds, to the relief of 26-year-old chief executive Hu Zhenyu and his engineers - one of whom cartwheeled his way to the launch pad in delight. LinkSpace, one of China's 15-plus private rocket manufacturers, sees these short hops as the first steps towards a new business model: sending tiny, inexpensive satellites into orbit at affordable prices.

Demand for these so-called nanosatellites - which weigh less than 10 kilogrammes and are in some cases as small as a shoebox - is expected to explode in the next few years. And China's rocket entrepreneurs reckon there is no better place to develop inexpensive launch vehicles than their home country.
 

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