HELSINKI — Chinese private space launch firm Galactic Energy has raised $21.5 million for the development and launch of new rockets.

The round was led by Puhua Capital and Huaqiang Capital with six further investors. The funding was secured in October and announced by Galactic Energy late December (Chinese). The funds will be used for the first launch of the Ceres-1 solid rocket in the first half of 2020.

Ceres-1 will consist of three solid stages using Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene fuel and a liquid propellant upper stage. The launcher will be capable of carrying a 350-kilogram payload to low Earth orbit. 

Successful hot fire tests of the engines for the first, second and third stages have been completed, with the latter test having taken place in December. The first Ceres-1 launch has earlier been stated to be planned for March 2020, with customers understood to be booked for the launch. 

Like a number of other Chinese launch vehicle startups, Galactic Energy are starting with solid rockets but also looking to develop larger, more complex liquid propellant launchers. 

A portion of the new funds will also go towards the development of the Pallas-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen launch vehicle. The partially reusable launcher will be capable of launching four metric tons to LEO or two tons to SSO.

The company says it has developed innovative designs to reduce costs and allow multiple reuses of the Pallas-1 kerolox engine. A test flight is currently slated for late 2022. The Ceres and Pallas launch vehicles are named after the first and third most massive bodies in the asteroid belt.

Galactic Energy, full name Beijing Xinghe Dongli Space Technology Co. Ltd., was established in February 2018. The firm says it has now raised $43 million (300 million yuan) in total.

Fellow Chinese private launch companies Landspace, OneSpace and iSpace have all launched light-lift solid rockets. Only iSpace Hyperbola-1, launched July 2019, succeeded in placing a satellite in orbit.

Landspace and iSpace are, like Galactic Energy, developing medium-lift liquid propellant launchers. The former pair are working on liquid methane-liquid oxygen engines to power their new rockets, slated for test launches in 2021. Landspace recently raised $71 million in funding for its Zhuque-2 launch vehicle.

Privately-funded launch and small satellite companies have proliferated since 2014, when the central government opened up segments of the space sector to outside investment. Chinese publication Future Aerospace reported there were 141 registered commercial aerospace companies in China at the end of 2018.

China plans record launch activity

The Ceres-1 mission will be one of a number of launches planned by private and commercial actors in 2020. These missions will supplement a planned record year for Chinese Long March rockets.

Private firm iSpace is expected to follow with further Hyperbola-1 light-lift solid rocket launches while competitor OneSpace aims to get back to the pad in 2020.

China Rocket Co. Ltd, a spinoff from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), is continuing development of Jielong (Smart Dragon) solid rockets. A follow-up Jielong-1 mission and a first Jielong-2 launch are planned for this year.

State-owned spinoff launch service provider Expace will continue launches of its solid-fueled Kuaizhou-1A. It will also hold a first launch of the larger, delayed Kuaizhou-11 launcher.

Main Chinese state space contractor CASC is planning more than 40 launches for 2020. Major goals include launching missions to Mars, a lunar sample return and test launches of three new launch vehicles. 

The first Chinese launch took place late Monday, hours after SpaceX marked the first launch of the year globally. A Long March 3B carried the classified TJSW-5 technology test satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Xichang. 

Late Jan. 11 will see a Kuaizhou-1A launch a 5G technology verification satellite for private firm Galaxy Space. Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert will host the launch. A Long March 2D will launch a number of remote sensing payloads late Jan. 14.

China was the most active country in terms of orbital launches for the first time in 2018, launching a national record 39 times. Last year it again led the charts with 34 launches, including two failures. 

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for GBTIMES and SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.