TALLINN, Estonia — Chinese state-owned and commercial companies are developing capabilities to launch liquid-propellant rockets from offshore platforms to increase the country’s launch options.
China has already demonstrated its ability to launch the Long March 11 solid rocket from sea platforms. These were made possible by a new spaceport at Haiyang in the eastern coastal province of Shandong.
Now private companies, including Orienspace and the state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), are developing larger liquid-propellant Gravity series rockets and modifying Long March 8 launchers for sea launches.
Haiyang seaport attracts a range of companies in the aerospace sector and promotes an industrial chain. After using ships used so far, a 162.5 meters long and 40 meters wide “New Type Rocket Launch Vessel” under construction and is expected to facilitate its first launch in 2022.
RSpace, a liquid rocket component startup, is now construct a 230-acre production and testing facility for storage tanks and liquid rocket body structures in Haiyang, with a planned total investment of $119 million.
The project has received support from the city and province and is listed as an important project for Shandong. The development signals a concerted effort to support liquid launches at sea, and its proximity would alleviate rocket transport problems for customers.
The company recently executed thermal and insulation tests on propellant tanks with a diameter of 3.35 meters.
Potential clients include Orienspace, which was established and established at the end of 2020 $47 million and $59.9 million in pre-A and A series funding rounds this year.
The company currently aims to launch its Gravity-1 solid rocket by mid-2023. The Gravity-2 kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher will follow.
Galactic Energy, a private launch vehicle provider, plans to launch its third Ceres-1 solid rocket within a few months and could test a sea launch of the vehicle before the end of the year.
It is not known whether the company’s under-development Pallas-1 kerolox rocket will be modified for sea launch. Pallas-1 is currently scheduled for a test flight in early 2023.
Similarly, CALT recently set up a nearby final assembly and test base, first used in May to support a long sea launch of commercial remote sensing satellites on March 11.
China launched five commercial remote sensing satellites (Jilin-1 Gaofen-03D04-07 and Gaofen-04A) with a sea launch of a Long March 11 rocket. China’s 13th launch of 2022. Images: CASC/Shi Xiao https://t.co/z45HfEkZkV pic.twitter.com/NbS4O1ZpAX
— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) April 30, 2022
CALT, one of China’s top two manufacturers and designers of state-owned launch vehicles owned by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., is also now considering adapting its new Long March 8 kerosene liquid oxygen launcher for sea launch.
“This breakthrough in marine launch technology enables China to launch medium and large satellites and constellations ‘both on land and at sea’, especially in low Earth orbits, and it allows China to remain competitive in the fast space industry ”, a 2021 paper in the Chinese Journal of Aeronautics.
The article looks at the prospects of sea launches for the reusable version of the Long March 8, which has yet to be used, and describes the future launcher as a “cheap, highly reliable and easy-to-use vehicle, revised for commercial use as preferred.” for launches at sea.”
Further studies on launch site security and drop zones for used rocket stages are required, according to the authors, but also note that the launch and recovery of the reusable launch vehicle at sea has fewer restrictions.
The Wenchang spaceport on Hainan Island could potentially host naval launches and has recently begun construction of a new launch complex for commercial launch.
China’s launch speed has increased rapidly in recent years. China was launched 19 times in 2015, all with Long March missiles. Last year, the country conducted 55 launches, including missions from commercial actors.
The country has expanded the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert to host solid and liquid commercial rockets to meet rising demand for launches, while also establishing Haiyang for offshore launches.
Wenchang and Ningbo City are also developing commercial launch centers.