Chinese private rocket startup Galactic Energy accomplishes six consecutive space launches

July 22, 2023

Galactic Energy, a private carrier rocket developer, launched its sixth Ceres 1 rocket on Saturday, sending two satellites successfully into orbit. The launch, kicking off the firm’s high-density delivery and launch cycle in the second half of the year, marked the latest efforts by Chinese private enterprises to ramp up their capabilities in rockets R&D and launches, expert said.

The Ceres 1 Y6 rocket blasted off on Saturday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China.

The two satellites onboard of the rocket included the nation’s first ultra-low orbit test satellite named Qiankun-1, which is used to verify technology breakthroughs in ultra-low orbit and build an advanced aerospace intelligent platform, helping to fill the gap in the application of ultra-low orbit space technology.

While the other satellite, developed by ADA-Space, a private satellite firm in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, is used for hyperspectral remote sensing.

“The launch marked the firm has officially kicked off a high-density launch and delivery cycle in the second half of the year,” Galactic Energy said in a news release sent to the Global Times.

High-density launch is the path a rocket firm has to take for its rocket products to mature from the lab to assembly line, entering the large-scale production.

Prior to Saturday’s launch, the Beijing-based start-up has accomplished five consecutive launches after making debut flight in November 2020 from Jiuquan launch site. It sent 19 satellites into orbits in total.

Galactic Energy plans to conduct some its future launches at sea early next year, a PR representative from the firm told the Global Times. 

Ceres 1 is a four-stage launch vehicle independently designed by Galactic Energy. Solid engine are used in the first, second and third stages, while advanced liquid upper stage is the fourth one.

“Consecutive successful launches by domestic private players over the past few years have sufficiently proved their steadily growing capabilities, and they are quickly catching up state-owned players which have long-time accumulated advantage,” Huang Zhicheng, a Chinese expert in aerospace science and technology, told the Global Times.

“They are even surpassing state-owned players in certain segment,” Huang added.

Earlier this month, another private rocket firm LandSpace launched the world’s first liquid oxygen, liquid methane carrier rocket from Jiuquan. The launch put China in the front of the global space race for methane-based rockets.

Creating less pollution, and delivering better safety outcomes at lower cost, methane-liquid rockets are viewed as a suitable propellant for reusable rocket, which is the direction that multiple rocket firms are aiming at.

After passing the threshold for orbital launch, the next battleground has come – reusable rocket, Huang said.

For example, Galactic Energy is developing the Pallas 1, a larger, reusable liquid-propellant rocket model.

The private commercial space sector has accelerated pace of development buoyed by favorable polices, ample capital support and competitive tech fundamentals, and its prospect is alluring, according to Huang.

The scale of China’s commercial space market has maintained rapid growth since 2015 with an expected annual growth rate above 20 percent from 2017 to 2024. It is estimated that the market size will reach 2.34 trillion yuan ($326 billion) in 2024, according to market research firm iiMedia Research.