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Roger Zhang rejects the title of China’s Elon Musk, bestowed on him by Chinese media.

张昌武(Roger Zhang)拒绝接受中国媒体授予他的称号:中国的埃隆?马斯克(Elon Musk)。
The chief executive of Landspace — one of the handful of Chinese start-ups building satellite-launching rockets — Mr Zhang prefers to operate quietly, out of the limelight.
“Building this kind of technology is slow going. We do not want to unveil anything until we are absolutely sure it can work successfully,” he says.
In 2014, China formally announced it would allow private companies to build and launch satellites, unleashing a flood of Chinese entrepreneurs looking to tap into the $420bn global satellite industry. Yet these first-movers have proceeded cautiously, a stark contrast to the glitzy coverage sought out by US space start-ups such as Mr Musk’s SpaceX.
Dozens of satellite-related companies have emerged over the past three years, but they are treading carefully, according to Lan Tianyi, who operates one of the country’s first private satellite consultancies, Ultimate Blue Nebula.
据中国首批民营卫星咨询公司之一北京千域空天(Ultimate Blue Nebula)的首席执行官蓝天翼介绍,过去3年出现了数十家卫星相关企业,但它们都行事谨慎。
“The whole aerospace industry used to be very secretive, because it was dominated by the government and military. [It] was not very popular among companies because it has a high risk of failure,” says Mr Lan.
Rather than seeking government or military clients, aerospace start-ups largely are vying for lucrative commercial satellite contracts. Once dominated by companies from the US and Russia, the commercial space is attracting newcomers from China and India jostling for a slice of the multibillion-dollar pie.
In China’s space sector, the number of orbital launches has increased since 2010, bringing the total number of satellites launched from the country in the past 50 years to about 190. Private companies say they plan to launch more than 20 satellites in each of the next two years. China has a 3 per cent share of the commercial space industry but is seeking to capture 10 per cent by 2020, according to state media.
China’s space entrepreneurs are primarily launching CubeSats — tiny satellites that are comparably cheap to make and can be launched en masse. They typically are used in universities for research purposes but also can be rapidly launched to support telecoms networks and rising demand for remote sensing and imaging.
With their lower launch costs, private satellite providers also are aiming to send up more sophisticated satellites to support telecoms systems that would rival networks run by western companies. Meanwhile, the government is developing the Beidou navigation system, pitching it as a Chinese alternative to the Global Positioning System (GPS) owned and operated by the US.
Commenting on the importance of self-contained, vertically independent communication networks, Keith Hayward, former head of research at the Royal Aeronautical Society in the UK, notes: “You’re not beholden to anybody to gain access to the system. You can configure the communication for military deployments and to encrypt upward and downward links to your satisfaction.”
英国皇家航空学会(Royal Aeronautical Society)前研究部门负责人基思?海沃德(Keith Hayward)在谈到自成一体、垂直独立的通信网络的重要性时指出:“你接入这个系统不受制于任何人。你可以配置通信用于军事部署并加密上行和下行链路,直到你满意。”
While Chinese satellite providers have found numerous customers in the developing world, they have encountered pushback from western countries, particularly from the US government, which controls the export and import of satellites above a certain capacity.
In June, Canadian regulators came under fire for approving the sale of Norsat — a Canadian satellite company that provides services to many government bodies including the US defence department — to Shenzhen-based Hytera Communications.
今年6月,加拿大监管机构因批准将加拿大卫星公司诺赛特(Norsat)出售给总部位于深圳的海能达(Hytera Communications)而受到批评,诺赛特向很多政府机构提供服务,包括美国国防部。
“One thing I think outsiders get wrong is they always suspect Chinese space companies must have something to do with the military,” says Mr Yang Feng, the chief executive officer of satellite-maker Spacety. “However, we just want to make commercial technology like anyone else.” Spacety says all of its funding comes from private venture capital funds.
“I don’t think you can make a clear distinction between Chinese civil and military space,” says Mr Hayward. “The emphasis on Chinese space is how it serves the Chinese state.”
Nearly all of China’s space start-ups are run by veterans of the country’s top military-affiliated research institutes and state aerospace companies. However, China’s space entrepreneurs insist their priority is commercial, not military.



“We took no intellectual property from the government. We brought only our minds,” says Mr Zhang of Landspace.

Space analysts point out, though, that Landspace’s rockets mirror Long March 11 rockets, designed by state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
然而,航天分析人士指出,蓝箭的火箭与“长征11号”火箭类似,后者由国有的中国航天科技集团公司(China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)设计。
Moreover, the rapid development of China’s private space industry is part of the government’s push to integrate civilian and military co-operation in technology. The hope is that the more nimble private sector can develop technologies to support the country’s growing space programme, which aims to put a person on the moon by about 2030.
“We can develop more experimental nanosatellite technology more quickly and cheaply than state companies,” says Spacety’s Mr Yang.

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