A Chinese startup has become the country’s first aerospace company to successfully launch a rocket into orbit on its first attempt.
Space Pioneer, also known as Beijing Tianbing Technology, conducted its maiden launch in early April from the Jiuquan Spaceport in northwest China.
Space Pioneer also became the first Chinese company to use liquid propellant rockets, which are easier to reuse than solid fuel rockets, something the startup claims is one of its primary goals.
Rocket launches are notoriously expensive and challenging tasks, and very few first attempts have ever been successful. American aerospace giant, SpaceX recorded three failed attempts before achieving any success.
In fact, SpaceX CEO and Twitter-owner, Elon Musk, has gone on record stating a fourth failed launch attempt would have bankrupted the young company, according to the technology website, Interesting Engineering.
Musk says SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket, a project that the South African-born entrepreneur said cost between $2 and $10 billion in research and development, will only have a “fifty-fifty” chance of making it out of our home planet’s atmosphere on its first try.
Another American startup, Relativity Space, recently launched its debut rocket, the 3D-printed Terran-1, but the liquid propellant prototype failed to reach orbit after one of its engines failed.
Space Pioneer was founded in 2018 and has since secured roughly $458 million in funding from several prominent domestic investors.
The funding will be used to attract talent to the young company, research and development, and the construction of its own space satellite launch facilities, according to Space News.
The three-stage Tianlong-2 rocket is powered by coal-derived kerosene and can carry payloads weighing as much as 2 000 kilograms into low-orbit or a 1 500-kilogram-payload into a 500-kilometre above sea level sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).
Each rocket features three YF-102 engines each capable of generating 85 tons of thrust, arranged in a triangular configuration.
Interestingly, Space News points out that, like China’s Long March class of propulsion vehicles, Tianlong has a diameter of 3.35 metres, meaning the rockets are compatible with China’s various spaceport infrastructure.
Space Pioneer’s next project, the Tianlong-3, will be a kerosene liquid oxygen (kerolox) fuelled engine with a reusable first stage.
Tianlong-3 will provide enough thrust to carry a 15-ton payload into low Earth orbit, according to a press release issued by the Beijing-based startup.
The company is targeting a 2024 debut for its new creation and intends to ramp up its launch frequency to 25 attempts per year by 2025.