HELSINKI — Leading Chinese launch startup Galactic Energy has secured $154 million in funding for the development of its reusable Pallas-1 rocket.

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

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

The funding announcement indicates there is still funding available to Chinese commercial launch firms despite an economic downturn and a crowded, competitive field. Announcements in the past couple of years also suggest major national contracts will be available to commercial launch service providers, providing potential streams of revenue.

Pallas-1 is a 42-meter-long kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher with a planned capacity of 5,000 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO), or 3,000 kg to a 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 next year for the first Pallas-1 flight. Recovery of a first stage using landing legs is slated for 2025. In August Galactic Energy performed a hop test using a jet engine-powered test article to test guidance, navigation and control software.

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

The firm says it is targeting acquiring contracts to launch satellites for China’s national satellite internet megaconstellation, named Guowang. The project would see China send close to 13,000 satellites into LEO. The national plan is seen as an answer to the SpaceX Starlink and other constellations.

Other Chinese satellite constellation plans, including the nascent “G60 Starlink” broadband constellation could also provide opportunities.

Galactic Energy is also understood to be a potential competitor to fly 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 in the 4 to 6 tons to 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 Jiuquan spaceport Dec. 4, successfully sending a pair of satellites into near-polar orbits. Galactic Energy had suffered its first failure in late September.

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

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

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

Landspace’s methane-fueled Zhuque-2, currently expendable, is already flying with two successful launches under its belt. It can carry 1,500 kilograms to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). An upgraded version will be capable of lifting 4,000 kg. 

The company has also announced a plan to develop a larger, stainless steel Zhuque-3. It is to be capable of lifting up to 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 with a liquid propellant rocket in April this year. It is now planning to launch its Tianlong-3 rocket in June 2024. The rocket will be comparable to Falcon 9 in launch capability and eventually have a reusable first stage. Space Pioneer secured new major funding in October.

The year 2023 has been a breakthrough year for Chinese commercial launch actors. Galactic Energy, iSpace, Landspace, Space Pioneer and state-owned spinoffs CAS Space and Expace have all reached orbit this year. 

These commercial actors account for 17 of China’s 62 orbital launches so far. These include the first successful Chinese commercial liquid-propellant launchers to reach orbit.

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...