Chinese launch start-up Galactic Energy is gearing up to debut its reusable rocket later this year. If it happens, Pallas-1 will be the first such rocket developed in China to reach orbit – though it is not clear if it will be recovered during the flight.
The announcement adds fuel to the race to develop reusable rockets in China. A number of the rockets are under development in the country but none were expected to be ready for space until next year.
Named for the goddess Athena in Greek mythology, Pallas-1 is slated to lift off from a spacecraft launch centre on the southern island of Hainan in November, according to local news site Hinews.cn.
The 49-metre (160-foot) kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket is designed to be used up to 50 times.
During a recent visit to the launch centre, Galactic Energy chief executive Liu Baiqi briefed staff on the rocket’s progress and discussed issues like the launch pad, satellite interface and spacecraft tracking in preparation for its flight, the report on January 31 said.
“Pallas-1 will be ready to fly this November,” Liu was quoted as saying. “People will be able to watch the launch from the coast of the South China Sea and enjoy the beauty of wisdom and technology.”
Asked if and where Pallas-1’s first-stage section will be retrieved during the maiden flight, a company representative said this information was “not suitable for release at the moment”.
Pallas-1 is powered by seven home-grown Cangqiong engines at the first stage. It can lift 5 tonnes into low-Earth orbit or 3 tonnes into the so-called sun-synchronous orbit 700km (435 miles) above the ground.
Founded in 2018, Galactic Energy has established itself as a leader in China’s commercial launch sector. It has the best launch record so far, including nine straight successful flights with its small solid-fuel rocket Ceres-1.
The Beijing-based company in December said it had secured 1.1 billion yuan (US$153.5 million) in funding for Pallas-1, which would go towards the research and development of reusable launch vehicle technology and related infrastructure.
But two separate sources with knowledge of the matter told the Post that Pallas-1 was not likely to be recovered during the November launch. Galactic Energy has only used a small craft, powered by a jet engine, to test the rocket’s guidance, navigation and control software for reusability so far.
Both iSpace and LandSpace Technology are planning debut flights with first-stage recovery in 2025.
China’s commercial launch companies are working on this technology to reduce launch costs and win contracts from the country’s expanding satellite-based internet constellation projects. These projects include GuoWang, a 13,000-satellite broadband constellation backed by the Chinese government as an answer to SpaceX’s Starlink.
The Shanghai government has also proposed the G60 Starlink project, with a similar number of satellites to provide internet service from orbit.