China has been eyeing new heights, quite literally, for a few decades now. The latest indication that a domestic "space tourism" business is about to emerge is the announcement last month by a Chinese space tech company that it had inked a cooperation agreement with the nation's largest state-owned travel corporation.
According to a statement posted on CAS Space's official WeChat account, the company committed to "jointly promote the application of commercial space technology and create a new space economy such as space tourism" when it signed a strategic cooperation agreement with a fully owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-based travel industry behemoth China Tourism Group. "Both parties will...make positive contributions to (helping) China progress from a big space power to a strong space power," CAS Space chairman Yang Yiqing said.
In an interview with China Daily, Yang added that the business would begin carrying out sub-orbital test flights the following year. The corporation wouldn't make its space tourism services available to the general public until after twelve of these flights, he claimed.
The majority of space tourism is currently provided by western companies, whether it be sub-orbital trips, like those offered by Virgin Galactic, that reach an altitude of about 100 km and give passengers a few minutes in space, or the much more luxurious orbital trips under development by SpaceX, which have a reach of almost 600 km and can keep passengers in space for as long as several days.
The fact that test flights will begin in 2023, according to Yang, indicates that China's domestic space tourism industry is on the convergence route with its western rivals. Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have just recently successfully completed their first launches.
According to a news statement from CAS Space, which is closely associated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the world's largest research organization and China's main scientific think tank, the spacecraft it designed can accommodate up to seven passengers. CAS Space also said last year that it will start offering suborbital flights in 2024, forecasting that these would carry up to 1000 customers to space annually.