Space Pioneer raises $207 million for reusable rocket

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun16,2024

HELSINKI — Chinese commercial company Space Pioneer has secured fresh funding for its reusable Tianlong-3 rocket, targeting launch contracts for megaconstellation plans.

Space Pioneer—full name Beijing Tianbing Technology Co., Ltd—announced the funding worth more than 1.5 billion yuan ($207 million) June 6. At least 15 investors participated in the funding, including a mix of private equity and state-linked investment vehicles.

These include state-linked Wuxi Chuangfa, CCTV Fund, CITIC Securities Investment, Hefei Ruicheng and SDIC Taikang, and private equity and investment firms Bohua Capital Management, Guoyu Gaohua, Deyue Investment and more.

The funding round was termed “C+,” as with another round secured in October last year. That round raised “several hundred millions of yuan.”

The funding will go towards the first launch of the new Tianlong-3 rocket, as well as its mass production and conversion for reusability. It will also be used for mass production of the smaller Tianlong-2. 

Tianlong-3 (“Sky Dragon-3”) is a two-stage kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket. Nine Tianhuo-12 engines power the first stage, which will be made reusable in the future. The 71-meter-long rocket will have a diameter of 3.8 meters. 

Space Pioneer states that the rocket will be capable of lifting 17 tons of payload to low Earth orbit (LEO), or 14 tons to 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. It aims to launch 30 Tianlong-3 rockets per year.

The company is planning a static fire test of the Tianlong-3 first stage by the end of June. A first launch will follow in the coming months.

Tianlong-3 is by far the largest commercial rocket close to launch in China and would provide the country with greatly-increased capacity for launch, including batches of satellites. It would also be nationally second only to the expendable Long March 5B (25 tons) terms of capacity to LEO.

The new financing takes Space Pioneer’s fund raising to more than four billion yuan ($552 million). It makes the firm possibly the most well-funded Chinese commercial launch company.

The funding also demonstrates the backing potentially available to launch companies in China, despite more than 10 companies working on a range of commercial launchers, including reusable rockets. 

China’s central government recently cited commercial space as an important future industry. Cities and provinces are now drawing up and enacting policies to support growth and innovation in the sector. This is part of a wider national strategy to build a world-leading satellite Internet system and boost the country’s comprehensive space power.

Constellation launches

Space Pioneer says it will contribute to the construction of China’s national satellite internet project. The country has three registered plans for 10,000-plus-satellite constellations. These are the national “Guowang” project and the Shanghai-backed G60 Starlink constellation. The Honghu-3 constellation, plans for which were recently filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by a firm linked to commercial rocket maker Landspace, has also emerged.

China sees the establishment of megaconstellations as a national security issue, securing finite frequencies for use in LEO, as well as orbital planes, and responding to Starlink. The country’s military has claimed that SpaceX has intended for Starlink to be used for military purposes in the wake of Ukraine’s defense against the invasion of Russia. 

China is constructing a commercial launch center near Wenchang, Hainan island. This will facilitate a range of growing number of commercial launchers. China needs to boost its already growing launch cadence to get the constellations off the ground.

Space Pioneer also previously stated plans to construct a launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, northwest China. 

Space Pioneer appears to be a leader among a crowded field of commercial launch vehicle developers in China. It became the first such company in China to reach orbit with a liquid rocket in April 2023 with Tianlong-2. The engines for the rocket were purchased from China’s state-owned main space contractor.

Deep Blue Aerospace last month announced “hundreds of millions of yuan” in funding. It plans its first orbital launch and an attempt to land the first stage for the second half of the year. 

CompanyRocket NameRocket TypeKey Features/NotesiSpaceHyperbola-3Methane-liquid oxygenPayload capacity of 8,500 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO); first flight planned for 2025.LandspaceZhuque-3MethaloxPayload capacity up to 21,000 kg to LEO. Stainless steel. first flight planned for 2025.Galactic EnergyPallas-1Kerosene-liquid oxygenPayload capacity of 5,000 kg to LEO, or 3,000 kg to a 700 km sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).CAS SpaceKinetica 2KeroloxPayload capacity of 7,800 kg to 500 km SSO.Deep Blue AerospaceNebula-1KeroloxPayload capacity of 1,000 kg to 500 km SSO; 2,000 kg to LEO. First flight planned in late 2024.Space PioneerTianlong-3KeroloxComparable to Falcon 9 in launch capability; plans for a reusable first stage.Space EpochXZY-1Methalox7,000 kg to 1,100 km. Stainless steel. First flight in 2025.OrienspaceGravity-2Kerolox25,600 kg to LEO. First flight in 2025; plans for a reusable first stage.CASCVariousVariousWorking on reusable rockets including a new-generation human-rated launcher, spaceplane, and Long March 9 super heavy-lift launcher.Non-exhaustive list of planned Chinese reusable rockets (Credit: Andrew Jones/SpaceNews).

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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