China’s homegrown answer to SpaceX has outlined plans to invest $1.5bn in a space-travel and future-technology theme park, as the group prepares for manned tests of Asia’s first near-space tourism project.
Hong Kong-listed KuangChi Science has already conducted unmanned tests for a high-altitude balloon called the Traveller, which has communications and weather-monitoring components but is also intended to take tourists to 24 kilometres above the earth.
Manned tests are planned over the next two years, the company said.
Chinese media have dubbed the company’s chairman, Liu Ruopeng, “the Elon Musk of China”, referring to the South African founder of Tesla and SpaceX.
Shenzhen-based KuangChi is developing a range of what it calls “future technologies”, including a powered exoskeleton suit. It has made several overseas technology acquisitions and launched a $50m investment fund targeting tech start-ups in Israel, with plans to establish a second fund soon.
While aiming lower than projects such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic — which aim to propel tourist-laden crafts across the 100km-high karman line into what is officially considered space — KuangChi is among several private projects attempting to put leisure passengers at twice the altitude of commercial aircraft.
The plans come as SpaceX has suffered a series of major challenges. Its pilotless Falcon 9 rocket exploded on its Florida launch pad last week, and in June a cargo flight bound for the International Space Station broke apart in mid-air.
US-based World View Enterprises and Spain’s Zero2infinity are locked in a race to put tourists in near-space balloons, from which the curvature of the earth is visible against the blackness of space. Google, SpaceX, and Facebook are also competing to launch a line of balloons for internet and communications connectivity.
KuangChi said the space and future park that it plans to build on a budget of $1.5bn in the Chinese city of Hangzhou will showcase technologies including a ride designed to give visitors the sensation of space travel in the Traveller balloon.
Set up in 2010, the company bought a majority stake last year in Martin Jetpack, which makes an individual flight craft engineered by New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft. It also bought a stake in a Canadian company that produces a hybrid aircraft called Solar Ship.
Martin Jetpack and KuangChi have formed a joint venture to sell jetpacks in China and plan to set up a factory on the mainland that will produce 1,000 jetpacks a year.
KuangChi’s main source of revenue is the Cloud, which provides services including internet coverage and surveillance, as well as disaster monitoring, from a blimp flying at 5km above sea level.
from Department of Private Space Inc.