Chinese launch startup Galactic Energy raises $154 million for Pallas-1 reusable rocket

HELSINKI China’s leading launch startup Galactic Energy has secured $154 million in funding for the development of its reusable Pallas-1 rocket.

Galactic Energy announced 1.1 billion yuan C and C+ rounds of funding on December 18. The funding will go to research and development of reusable launch vehicle technology for the Pallas-1 medium-lift rocket and may related infrastructure.

The rounds were led by Ziyang Heavy Industry Fund and participated by Bengbu Investment Group, Langfang Linkong, Founder Hesheng Investment, Jintuo Capital, and additional undisclosed Investors, according to a company statement.

The funding announcement indicates that there is funding available for commercial launch companies in China despite an economic downturn and a crowded, competitive field. Announcements over the past two years also suggest that major national contracts will be available to commercial launch service providers, providing potential revenue streams.

Pallas-1 is a 42-meter long kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher with a planned capacity of 5,000 kg in low Earth orbit (LEO), or 3,000 kg in 700 km sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) . Seven Cangqiong (Welkin) gas generator engines will power the first stage.

The company stated at the China Commercial Aerospace Forum in Wuhan in July that it is targeting Q3 of next year for the first Pallas-1 flight. Recovery of a first stage with landing legs is scheduled for 2025. In August Galactic Energy conducted a hop test using a jet engine-powered test article to test the guidance, navigation and control software.

Galactic Energy is also planning a triple-core variant of the Pallas-1. The launcher is capable of lifting 14,000 kg into LEO and is planned to be launched as soon as 2026.

The company said it aims to get contracts to launch satellites for Chinas national satellite internet megaconstellation, named Guowang. The project will see China send around 13,000 satellites into LEO. The national plan is seen as an answer to SpaceX Starlink and other constellations.

Other Chinese satellite constellation plans, including the new G60 Starlink broadband constellation may also provide opportunities.

Galactic Energy is also understood to be a potential competitor in flying low-cost cargo missions to the Tiangong space station. A call from China’s human spaceflight agency earlier this year solicited and then selected proposals for cargo spacecraft and launch solutions of 4 to 6 tons to the LEO range.

The completed rounds followed shortly after the company conducted a successful return-to-flight. The 11th Ceres-1 four-stage solid rocket launch took place at the Jiuquan spaceport on December 4, successfully sending a pair of satellites into near-polar orbit. Galactic Energy suffered its first setback in late September.

Galactic Energy, full name Beijing Xinghe Dongli Space Technology Co. Ltd., was founded in February 2018. The company has established itself as a leader in a crowded commercial launch sector in China with successful launches. It also made a successful launch from a mobile sea platform.

This is the second major round of funding for the company. Galactic Energy announced in early 2022 that it had raised $200 million in two rounds of funding in the second half of 2021. Pallas-1 was also the focus of those rounds.

Galactic Energy, while establishing itself with Ceres-1 (400 kg to LEO; 300 kg to 500-km SSO), faces stiff competition from larger, reusable rockets .

The methane-fueled Zhuque-2 on the ground, which is now expendable, is already flying with two successful launches under its belt. It can carry 1,500 kilograms into a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The upgraded version can lift 4,000 kg.

The company also announced a plan to produce a larger, stainless steel Zhuque-3. It is capable of lifting 18,300 kg to LEO while also recovering the first stage. 2025 is the target for the first launch.

Space Pioneer became the first Chinese commercial startup to reach orbit using a liquid propellant rocket in April this year. It now plans to launch its Tianlong-3 rocket in June 2024. The rocket is comparable to the Falcon 9 in launch capabilities and will eventually have a reusable first stage. Space Pioneer secured new major funding in October.

The year 2023 will be a year of success for Chinese commercial launch actors. Galactic Energy, iSpace, Landspace, Space Pioneer and state-owned spinoffs CAS Space and Expace have reached orbit this year.

These commercial actors account for 17 of Chinas 62 orbital launches to date. This included the first successful Chinese commercial liquid-propellant launcher that reached orbit.

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