HELSINKI — China’s Academy of Aerospace Liquid Propulsion Technology is marketing reusable rocket engines to speed up development of China’s commercial space sector.

Three engines are being marketed, including the YF-102 kerosene-liquid oxygen gas generator engine, which uses 3D printing techniques and the vacuum-optimized YF-102V. The third is the reusable YF-209 methane-liquid oxygen, 80-ton-thrust engine. The latter is still in development, with hot fire testing being carried out in February.

The YF-102 engines have already been used in flight. Three YF-102 engines powered the first stage of the Tianlong-2 rocket developed by private company Space Pioneer. The first flight of the rocket, in April, was the first Chinese commercial liquid propellant rocket to send a payload into orbit.

AALPT is a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), a state-owned space and defense giant and the country’s main space contractor. 

AALPT said the engines are designed to be low-cost and suitable for mass production. The academy is building a production line capable of delivering 300 of the engines per year.

“We can see that its construction is relatively simple, the number of components is small, a large number of mature material systems are used, and 3D printing technology is used,” Liu Shang, a chief designer at AALPT told CCTV regarding the YF-102.

The development can be seen as a strategic move to boost China’s supply chains and access space.

“I might see this development as an attempt to increase the pace at which additional Chinese launch options are available in the domestic supply chain,” Ian Christensen, director of private sector programs at the Secure World Foundation, told SpaceNews.

“The most recent CASC Blue Book anticipated a higher number of Chinese launches, and spacecraft to be launched, than in prior years. This move may be an indication that this increase is expected to continue in future years, and that there might be an under supply in launch capacity,” Christensen said.

CASC declared its intentions to surpass 60 launches this year, carrying more than 200 spacecraft.

“Increasing commercial firms’ access to mature engines could be a way to hasten the introduction of more launch supply in coming years, allowing CASC to achieve satellite production and deployment plans.”

Commercial launchers may be involved in China’s national broadband megaconstellation plans.

China’s commercial space launch providers are together planning more than 20 launches this year, more than double that of 2022. 

A large number of these planned launches are solid rocket launches from Expace and CAS Space which are spinoffs from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) respectively. The latter uses SP70 solid rocket motors from CASC for its Lijian-1, or Kinetica-1, rockets, according to a recent presentation.

Landspace meanwhile is preparing for its second launch of the Zhuque-2 methalox rocket which failed to reach orbit with its debut flight in December 2022. Landspace has, as with a number of other companies, developed its own engines. Dedicated commercial rocket engine developers are also active 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...