Galactic Energy, a rocket startup in China, launched five satellites into orbit on Monday, boosting the private company’s ambition to become the Chinese rival to SpaceX.
Galactic Energy’s Ceres-1 rocket lifted off Monday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China, sending five commercial satellites into their intended orbits, the Beijing-based company said in a statement on the same day.
The five satellites will be used for telecommunication, weather forecasts and scientific research for government agencies in the country, the company added.
The mission marks the fifth launch of the Ceres-1 rocket — a small solid fuel orbital rocket designed by the company, Galactic Energy said. So far, it has successfully put 19 commercial satellites into space, setting a record for a private Chinese firm.
“It sounds the trumpet for us to start a high-density orbital launch in 2023,” it said, adding that it plans to complete 8 to 10 missions for this year.
Galactic Energy conducted the first Ceres-1 launch on November 7, 2020, which makes it the second Chinese private company to launch a satellite into low Earth orbit. A Beijing-based startup, i-Space, was the first to do so in 2019.
Many Chinese commercial satellite launch providers are currently using small solid-propellant rockets like Ceres. But some firms are developing or testing reusable liquid-propellant rocket engines, which allow precise control of the thrust after ignition.
Last year, Galactic Energy successfully tested its liquid-propellant Welkin engine for its next-generation rockets. Its founder Liu Baiqi said that they want to build the Chinese version of the Merlin engine, which was developed by SpaceX.
Founded in 2018, Galactic Energy has received several rounds of financing from private equity investors and venture capitalists, worth more than $250 million in total. Major investors include the investment arm of Aviation Industry Corporation of China, a state-owned aerospace and defense conglomerate.
China’s commercial space industry has expanded rapidly since 2015, when the government began encouraging private companies to enter the space sector. Before that, launching rockets and satellites had been the monopoly of state-owned aerospace companies.
Over the past few years, more than 170 private companies have entered the space industry, according to a 2020 research report by Future Space Research, a research institute based in Beijing.
The successful launch by the Chinese startup came on the same day that Virgin Orbit suffered failure on its first rocket launch from the United Kingdom.