China is upping bets on private space companies, leading among countries expanding market share in the nascent industry during the third quarter, according a report from Space Angels, an investing firm specializing in private space ventures.
Chinese space companies drew $69 million of investment in the third quarter, more than any other country in that time. This year has seen China already pour $217 million in space companies, nearly matching the $230 million invested in all of last year.
Of the $16.1 billion invested in private space companies and partnerships since 2009, China now represents 3 percent, with about half a billion dollars. That may not seem like much – but nearly all of China's investment has come since 2016.
"A few years ago, people suddenly started paying attention to the incredible progress [the Chinese] government was making," Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson told CNBC. "Now their market share of private investment in space has gone from 0 percent to 3 percent in just the last three years."
Chinese companies may be getting a recent boost but "the U.S. still has the lion's share" of the global space market, Anderson said. The U.S. represents 60 percent of that total historical investment in private space companies – although that's shrunk in the last few years.
Source: Space Angels
In the hot sector of small rockets, in which companies are targeting lucrative small satellite launches, the U.S. has four functioning companies Anderson said: Rocket Lab, Vector, Virgin Orbit and Astra Space. While the former reached orbit in January, the latter three are each deep into rocket testing programs, with the suborbital and orbital test launches scheduled in the coming months.
"But there's also Gilmore Space in Australia and OneSpace in China, with four other Chinese small launch companies coming online," Anderson said. "The first Chinese investment was in 2014 with LinkSpace, but [China] only really started investing significantly in 2016."
LinkSpace received the earliest investment but has yet to send a rocket to space. The company has conducted launch and landing "hop" tests for its rocket but has otherwise remained quiet.
A LinkSpace rocket hovers in a hop test