Deep Blue Aerospace Completes One-Kilometer-Level Rocket Launch and Landing Test
HELSINKI (Reuters) – A Chinese launch startup sent a small rocket test platform to an altitude of one kilometer on Friday before performing a powered descent and vertical landing.
Deep Blue Aerospace, founded in 2017, conducted the test on May 6 with the Nebula M1 test article at a facility in Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, landing within half a meter of the landing pad “bulleye”.
The test is a milestone in the development of the complete Nebula-1 rocket with a retrievable first stage, and indicates the progress and efforts of Chinese launch startups to develop reusable launch vehicles.
The Nebula M1 is powered by a Leiting-5 (“Thunder-5”) variable thrust kerosene-fueled liquid oxygen engine. The landing in the video is obscured by dust kicked up from the thrust, but the company says the test passed.
Deep Blue Aerospace performed a one-kilometer-level launch and landing VTVL test yesterday with its Nebula-M test article, as part of the development of the Nebula-1 reusable orbital launch vehicle. https://t.co/BaDs7Xyuez pic.twitter.com/lTDN6MZ5tD
— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) May 7, 2022
The Nebula-M has been used in two previous successful tests at altitudes of around 10 and 100 meters. Further tests – at altitudes of 10 and 100 kilometers – will be carried out using a new test stage on the same scale as the full-scale Nebula-1 rocket. It will use more powerful Leiting-20 engines with 20 tonnes of thrust, which are to undergo testing in a next stage.
The first orbital launch and recovery of Nebula-1 is planned before the end of 2024.
Huo Liang, founder of Deep Blue Aerospace, said SpaceNews in a previous interview that the company is targeting both private launch contracts and government programs, including the satellite internet project and the space station as possible sources of income.
The company got a boost last month, announcing undisclosed A+ round funding on April 19, three months after raising $31.5 million in round funding. last fall Deep Blue Aerospace employed nearly 100 people, some of whom came from traditional institutes and enterprises in the Chinese space industry, and others from sectors such as the automotive and aerospace industries. About 70% of the team are engineers.
Deep Blue Aerospace claims that the Vertical Takeoff, Vertical Landing (VTVL) achieved the highest altitude for such a test performed in China, while also achieving the highest speed and longest flight time.
The previous apparent altitude record was 300.2 meters set by Linkspace in 2019 using its RLV-T5 vehicle. After an apparent pause, Linkspace targets now a 100 kilometer level test in the fourth quarter of this year after a recent successful static fire test of the larger liquid methane-oxygen RLV-T6.
Deep Blue Aerospace and Linkspace aren’t the only Chinese commercial launch companies towards reusability. Beijing-based iSpace is developing the Hyperbola-2 methox launcher while Galactic Energy (Pallas-1), space pioneer and others are also developing liquid propellant launchers and vertical take-off and vertical landing capabilities.
Landspace, one of the pioneers in China, recently released images of its Zhuque-2, suggesting that its first test launch is near. While the launch will be expendable, the company plans to convert the Methalox rocket into a reusable launch vehicle.
Landspace is releasing images of the Zhuque-2, suggesting its first test flight from Jiuquan is slated for soon. A big development: China’s first private liquid rocket and could be the first liquid methane-oxygen launch vehicle in orbit. https://t.co/8cC1yXKe2k pic.twitter.com/cAkpdyw0cW
— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) May 3, 2022
The country’s main space contractor, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), also explores reuse with its Long March 8 derived from existing Long March rockets, while a reusable variant based on the Long March 6 is under development by the ACCS Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.
CASC is also developing a new reusable launcher with three cores for manned spaceflight, while its superheavy Long March 9 rocket could also be made reusable.