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Space tourism is looking for liftoff in China

A rendering of a Chinese space tourism rocket leaving the atmosphere.
A rendering of a Chinese space tourism rocket leaving the atmosphere. (Image credit: CAS Space)

Chinese launch services company CAS Space has signed a cooperation agreement with a giant state-owned travel company in an apparent boost for fledgling space tourism efforts in China.

CAS Space, a Beijing-based rocket company, recently signed an agreement with the Hong Kong-based China Tourism Group to jointly explore and advance the market for space tourism.

CAS Space, spun off from the state-owned Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), made the announcement (opens in new tab) on its official account on Chinese social media app WeChat on July 12.

Related: China's Shenzhou 12 astronauts send back stunning images of Earth (photos)

The deal doesn't exactly come out the blue. CAS Space announced last year that it is working on a single-stage reusable rocket which would take as many as seven passengers on a 10-minute ride up above the Kármán line at 62 miles (100 kilometers), which is generally recognized as the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

The design presented in CAS Space renders has drawn comparisons with both Blue Origin and its New Shepard suborbital rocket and SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

The first test flight is currently scheduled for 2023, with CAS Space planning on conducting at least 15 test flights before carrying its first tourists. The company's senior officials also think the time is right for space tourism to take off.

"Along with the rapid development of space technology, a space tour for ordinary people is no longer a fantasy but is becoming a reality. A trip to outer space will bring tourists a brand-new experience they've never had before," Yang Yiqiang, a CAS Space founder, told China Daily (opens in new tab).

CAS Space is one of a number of commercial Chinese launch companies that have emerged in the last few years. The firm is currently preparing (opens in new tab)to make its first orbital launch attempt with the ZK-1A solid rocket from Jiuquan.

It also faces competition for would-be space tourists. Another Chinese company, Space Transportation, is developing a "rocket with wings" it says it will use for space tourism and point-to-point travel.

China's first astronaut in space, Yang Liwei, also stated earlier this year that the country's space station would be open to paying visitors later in the decade.

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Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).