A 20-meter-tall rocket lifts off into the sky from a cloud of dust at the desert spaceport of Jiuquan, northwest China, with a trail of exhaust behind the rocket. The rocket is rising into a blue sky punctuated by a number of cumulus clouds.
Liftoff of the third Ceres-1 solid rocket from Jiuquan, Aug. 9, 2022. Credit: Galaxy Space

HELSINKI — Chinese commercial launch service provider Galactic Energy maintained a 100 percent launch record early Tuesday with its third Ceres-1 solid rocket launch.

The four-stage Ceres-1 rocket lifted off at 12:11 a.m. Eastern Aug. 9 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.Aboard were three small satellites. 

Taijing-1 01 and 02, developed by private small satellite manufacturer Minospace using its MN50 platform, will mainly provide commercial remote sensing services. Donghai-1, developed by Shanghai-based ASES Space, is designed to verify multi-mode remote sensing and key technologies.

The trio were sent into 500-kilometer-altitude Sun synchronous orbit (SSO), according to a Galactic Energy press release. 

The Ceres-1 rocket 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.

The Ceres-1 this time featured a more voluminous, 1.6-meter-diameter payload fairing. The rocket featured a white color scheme, and bore the mission name “White is the new black”. The previous two Ceres-1 rockets were painted black. 

Galactic Energy said earlier in the year that it is planning between five and six launches in 2022. The firm could also potentially conduct a sea launch of the Ceres-1, facilitated by a new Eastern spaceport for sea launches established at Haiyang, Shandong province.

A view of Earth from the space during the flight of the third Ceres-1 rocket. Credit: Galactic Energy

Galactic Energy was founded in 2018. In November 2020 it became only the second Chinese private launch firm to reach orbit. It became the only such company to reach orbit twice, in December 2021, when the second Ceres–1 launched five satellites.

The company is however looking beyond solid rockets to reusable liquid launch vehicles. Pallas-1, a reusable kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher, will be capable of lofting 5,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit or 3,000 kilograms to 700-km SSO. It could launch as soon as during the first half of 2023.

Galactic Energy announced in January that it had secured $200 million in funding for Pallas-1 in what was then the largest funding round of any launch company in China. 

This has since been surpassed by Expace, a spinoff from state-owned defense giant CASIC, which raised $237 million in B round funding in June backed by seven undisclosed investors.

Other Chinese launch firms have attracted a number of significant funding rounds this year, including Space Pioneer, Orienspace, Space Trek and Deep Blue Aerospace.

Some of these are also developing reusable launch vehicles, with Landspace expected to conduct the test flight of its Zhuque-2 methane-liquid oxygen rocket in the near future.

The Ceres-1 mission was China’s 30th orbital launch of 2022, and the fourth not involving the Long March rockets developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

ISpace, another private launch service provider, failed with a third consecutive Hyperbola-1 solid rocket launch in May, while Expace had a successful return to flight with another light-lift solid rocket, the Kuaizou-1A, in the same month.

CAS Space, another spinoff, this time from the Chinese Academy of Science in July debuted what is now China’s largest orbital solid rocket, Lijian-1, putting six satellites in orbit.

Chinese state-owned and commercial actors are developing a range of solid rockets, a trend perceived as intending to boost overall space capabilities and increase flexibility and access to space.

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...