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China's next commercial rockets to make test flights in 2020, 2021: Xinhua

Smart Dragon-1 rocket carrying three satellites lifts off from the launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will launch test flights for the next two space rockets in its Smart Dragon series meant for commercial use in 2020 and 2021, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday, as an expected boom in satellite deployment gathers pace.

The release of the flight schedule by China Rocket Co, a unit of state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, comes two months after the firm's first reusable rocket, the 23-tonne Smart Dragon-1, delivered three satellites into orbit.

China envisions constellations of commercial satellites that can offer services ranging from high-speed internet for aircraft to tracking coal shipments. Reusable designs will enable frequent rocket launches and help keep costs down.

The solid-propellant Smart Dragon-2, weighing about 60 tonnes and with a total length of 21 meters, will be capable of sending 500 kg payloads into orbit at an altitude of 500 km (310 miles), Xinhua said. It is expected to conduct a flight test next year.

At about 116 tonnes and with a length of 31 meters, the Smart Dragon-3, set for a test flight in 2021, will be capable of sending 1.5 tonne payloads into orbit, Xinhua added.

In July, Beijing-based iSpace became the first private Chinese firm to deliver a satellite into orbit on its rocket. Since late last year, two other startups have attempted to launch satellites but failed.


(Reporting by Tom Daly; editing by Richard Pullin)