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China’s Space Program Is Coming for Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos

China is spending $8 billion to build a fledgling commercial industry focused on sending small payloads into orbit.

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Illustration: Braulio Amado for Bloomberg Businessweek
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Billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson dominate the emerging industry of commercial spaceflight. They’re competing to put satellites, tourists, or both in space in their bids to become cheaper alternatives to NASA, the European Space Agency, and other government-run space programs. But like pioneers in the smartphone and artificial intelligence industries before them, they now face competition from a deep-pocketed upstart that threatens to disrupt their launchpads: China. President Xi Jinping has loosened the government’s monopoly on space launches, and that’s fueling the formation of small domestic companies with ambitions to challenge Musk’s SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Branson’s Virgin Galactic.