Space Pioneer raises $14 million to develop green liquid rocket engines

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HELSINKI — Chinese space propulsion startup Space Pioneer has raised $14 million in funding for completing a series of next-generation liquid engines.

ZJU Joint Innovation Investment, linked to Zhejiang University, led the pre-Series A round. Innoangel Fund and Eagles Fund, both based in Beijing, joined the round announced Monday.

Space Pioneer, full name Beijing Tianbing Technology Co., Ltd., secured two previous funding rounds in 2019, one of which also included ZJU Joint Innovation Investment.

The company, established in 2015, will use the funds to develop a 30-ton-thrust HCP liquid engine named Tianhuo-3. It aims to fully develop the engine and take it to the test stand this year. Igniter hot fire tests were performed late last year.

Tianhuo series engines use a ‘next-generation’ green, ambient temperature propellant. A hot test of the Tianhuo-2 engine was conducted early this year. A company press release states it aims to develop launch vehicles and space propulsion systems. 

Chinese commercial space progress

China’s commercial space sector has been quietly progressing despite delays stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., also known as iSpace, is preparing a follow-up to its maiden Hyperbola-1 launch. The first mission last July made the firm the first Chinese private entity to send a payload in orbit.

The Hyperbola-1 (Y2) rocket passed electrical tests in April (Chinese) following earlier tests of attitude control systems. Fairing separation tests were conducted April 13. No tentative launch date was provided.

Fairing separation test for the second Hyperbola-1 rocket.
Fairing separation test for the second Hyperbola-1 rocket. Credit: iSpace

Landspace Technology Corporation in March succeeded with a 1500-second test of its Tianque-11 10-ton-thrust engines. Landspace claims full-system hot tests of 10 seconds, 100 seconds, 750 seconds, and 1500 seconds were all completely successful.

TQ-11 engines are designed for use in a range of Zhuque-2 liquid methane-liquid oxygen launch vehicles. The engines will mainly be used for the second stage of the 48.8-meters-high, 3.35-meter-diameter Zhuque-2 launcher. A test flight is scheduled for 2021. Zhuque-2 will be capable of delivering a 4,000-kilogram payload capacity to a 200-kilometer low Earth orbit and 2,000 kilograms to 500-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit.

Beijing Aerospace Propulsion Technology Co. Ltd., a rocket engine maker founded in 2018, is entering the testing phase for its Canglong-1 methalox engine. Canglong-1 engines can be used alone or in parallel with two, four and five engines to provide take-off thrust of 60 tons, 120 tons, 240 tons and 300 tons. 

Chinese launch service provider Expace will launch the Xingyun-2 (01, 02) satellites on a Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket from Jiuquan before the end of the month. 

Xingyun is a planned LEO narrowband IoT constellation by Expace owner CASIC. The new pair of satellites will test inter-satellite laser links and on-board digital multi-beam communications.

Hot fire testing of TQ-11 methalox engines in March 2020.
Testing of TQ-11 methalox engines in March 2020. Credit: Landspace