Chinese rocket startup Galaxy Energy launched five satellites into orbit on Monday, boosting the private company’s ambitions to become a rival to SpaceX in China.
Galaxy Energy’s Ceres-1 rocket blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China on Monday, sending five commercial satellites into predetermined orbits, the Beijing-based company said in a statement on the same day.
The five satellites will be used for telecommunications, weather forecasting and scientific research by government agencies in the country, the company added.
Galactic Energy said the mission marked the fifth launch of the Ceres-1 rocket — a small solid-fuel orbital rocket designed by the company. So far, it has successfully sent 19 commercial satellites into space, setting a record for Chinese private enterprises.
“This is the clarion call for us to begin high-density orbital launches in 2023,” it said, adding that it plans to complete eight to 10 missions this year.
Galaxy Energy conducted its first Ceres-1 launch on November 7, 2020, making it the second Chinese private company to launch a satellite into low-Earth orbit. Beijing-based startup i-Space pioneered this in 2019.
Many Chinese commercial satellite launch providers are currently using small solid-propellant rockets like Ceres. But some companies are developing or testing reusable liquid-propellant rocket engines that can precisely control thrust after ignition.
Last year, Galactic Energy successfully tested its The liquid-propellant Welkin engine for its next-generation rocket. Its founder Liu Baiqi said that they want to build a Chinese version of the Merlin engine, developed by SpaceX.
Founded in 2018, Galactic Energy has received multiple rounds of financing from private equity investors and venture capitalists, with a total value of more than $250 million. Major investors include the investment arm of state-owned aerospace and defense conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China.
China’s commercial space industry has grown rapidly since the government began encouraging private companies to enter the field in 2015. Prior to this, launching rockets and satellites had been the monopoly of state-owned space companies.
More than 170 private companies have entered the aerospace industry in the past few years, according to a 2020 research report released by the Future Space Institute, a Beijing-based research institute.
The successful launch of the Chinese start-up comes on the same day that Virgin Orbit suffered a failure in its first UK rocket launch.