China has agreed with a major American aircraft company to open negotiations soon over cooperation in the launching of space satellites, the official New China News Agency reported today.
According to the agency, the Hughes Aircraft Co., a leading American aerospace corporation, recently proposed that a joint satellite launching ground be set up on a Hawaiian island. The report, which did not identify the island, said that "the suggestion has received a positive response from the Chinese side."
If agreement is reached, Chinese rocket carriers and technology would be used to launch American civilian satellites from the joint launching site, the agency said.
It added, "Negotiation on related substantial questions between both sides are expected to be held soon."
The news of the talks with Hughes and an announcement yesterday that China will launch two satellites for the American company Teresat indicated that China is moving quickly to fill the need for satellite launching created by the recent failures of American and European rockets, including the U.S. shuttle Challenger.
Agreement with Hughes on satellite launchings would mark a major leap forward for China's fledgling, relatively untested satellite launching services. But independent observers in Peking said that a deal with Hughes was still far from certain. Hughes is looking at several options, one observer said.
Another expert here said Hughes apparently would want to have any launches of sensitive American satellite equipment conducted on U.S. territory for security reasons.
Yesterday, China made a joint announcement of an agreement with Teresat Inc., a U.S. company headquartered in New York, that would provide for the launching by the Chinese of two American-built communications satellites in 1987 and 1988.
In April, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding to launch the two satellites. It was not disclosed how much Teresat would pay, but the prevailing international rate is as much as $30 million per launch.
According to an announcement made in New York and Peking, Teresat signed what was described as a satellite launch reservation agreement with the China Great Wall Industry Corp., a division of the Chinese Ministry of Astronautics.
The announcement quoted Henry Schwartz, chairman of Teresat, Inc., and Charles Abrams, chairman of the Agreement with Hughes . . . would mark a major leap forward for China's fledgling, relatively untested satellite launching services. New York-based International Capital and Technology Corp., a Teresat shareholder, as saying that they believed China would play a major role in the world market for satellite launch and support services.
One potential problem for such joint efforts is finding insurance. But yesterday's announcement said the Teresat delegation to the signing of the launch reservation agreement included three senior members of Frank B. Hall and Co., an insurance firm that the announcement said will work with Teresat on an insurance program for the two launches.
According to a recent issue of the magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology, one of the Teresat satellites is to be used in airline communications while the other is to provide communications linking office buildings across the United States.
China and the Soviet Union, which also has offered to launch satellites for other countries, now have the world's only satellite launching capability following failures in the U.S. and European programs. The U.S. space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, resulting in the grounding of the shuttle fleet, and U.S. Titan and Delta rockets also recently failed. At the end of May, officials halted European launchings following the failure of an Ariane 2 rocket carrying a communications satellite.
At a press conference in Peking June 6, senior Chinese experts said China is capable of launching as many as a dozen space satellites a year and would charge 10 to 15 percent less than western competitors.
They said they can insure the launches jointly with foreign insurance firms and will offer preferential rates.
Western businessmen here predicted that China would become a strong competitor in the launching of commercial satellites.
"By the time the U.S. is back on the launch pad, they're going to find that China has sown up a big piece of the market," one businessman said.
At the June 6 press conference, Chinese experts said that "many" potential customers from 10 countries had approached China with queries about its satellite launching program.
The Chinese must increase the power of their rockets if they are to carry American satellites, but the Chinese experts said there are plans to do that.
Sun Jiadong, vice minister of astronautics, told reporters that China plans to increase the capability of its Long March 3 rocket so it can launch payloads of 2.5 tons. He said that the Long March 3 is currently capable of carying payloads of up to 1.4 tons.
The Chinese have launched 18 satellites, and only one launch has failed, according to Chinese officials. But the Chinese have succeeded so far in placing only two satellites into geostationary orbit, in which the satellite stays over the same spot on earth at all times.