HELSINKI — Chinese commercial rocket firm Galactic Energy experienced its first failure Thursday with its 10th launch attempt.

Airspace closure notices pointed to a launch attempt from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China at around 1:00 a.m. Eastern, Sept. 21. The window passed without notification of a launch, which would typically follow within an hour of liftoff.

Galactic Energy published an article confirming the loss of a Ceres-1 rocket and its payload via its WeChat social network account roughly six hours after launch. 

The company stated a four-stage Ceres-1 solid rocket lifted off from Jiuquan at 12:59 a.m. Eastern, carrying the Jilin-1 Gaofen-04B satellite for commercial remote sensing firm Changguang Satellite Technology (CGST).

The specific reasons are being further analyzed and investigated, according to the Galactic Energy statement. The firm also expressed sincere apologies to its customers.

The launch was the firm’s first major setback. All of its nine previous launches were successful, starting in November 2021. Galactic Energy had been executing a high-density period of launches, carrying out four missions between July 22 and Sept. 5, including a first launch from a mobile sea platform off the coast of Shandong province.

Ceres-1 has a diameter of 1.4 meters, a length of about 20 meters, a mass at take-off of about 33 tons and a liquid propellant upper stage. It can deliver 400 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO) or 300 kg to a 500-kilometer-altitude sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). This was the first launch to 800 kilometers.

The company, which was founded in February 2018, is meanwhile also preparing for the first launch of its Pallas-1 kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher. 

The reusable two-stage Pallas-1 will be capable of carrying 5,000 kilograms to LEO or 3,000 kilograms to 700-km SSO. The first expendable launch is slated for the third quarter of 2024.

CGST is an offshoot from the state-owned Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics (CIOMP) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Established in 2014, CGST has more than 100 satellites in orbit.

The company announced last year that it intends to expand its Jilin-1 constellation from a planned 138 satellites to 300 satellites by 2025

Galactic Energy’s impressive record up to today appears to have secured it vital contracts to launch Jilin-1 satellites. 

The launch was China’s 44th orbital mission of 2023 and the first failure. China’s state-owned main contractor has carried out 30 launches so far of a planned 60 or more, suggesting an intense period of launch activity in the remaining months of the year. The breakdown also highlights the growing role of commercial launch service providers in China.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...