A Chinese launch company launched a small rocket test stage to a height of one kilometer before conducting a vertical landing and powered descent on Friday. Deep Blue Aerospace, which was created in 2017, undertook the test on May 6 at a site in Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province, using the Nebula M1 test item, landing within just under half a meter of the landing pad “bullseye.”
The test is a significant step forward in the creation of the entire Nebula-1 rocket using a reusable first stage, and it demonstrates Chinese launch entrepreneurs’ progress and efforts to create reusable launchers.
The Leiting-5 (“Thunder-5”) electric-pump-fed kerosene-liquid oxygen engine powers the Nebula M1. The landing is hidden in the video due to dust generated by the push, but the manufacturer maintains the test was successful.
The Nebula-M has been successfully tested at heights of roughly 10 and 100 meters in two previous tests. New tests will be undertaken at altitudes of about 10 and 100 kilometers, utilizing a new test stage that is the same scale as the full-scale Nebula-1 rocket. It will be powered by stronger 20-ton-thrust Leiting-20 engines, that will be tested next.
The Nebula-1’s maiden orbital launch and recovery is scheduled for 2024. Deep Blue Aerospace’s founder, Huo Liang, informed SpaceNews in an interview earlier that the company is looking for revenue streams from both private launch deals and government programs such as the national satellite Internet program and the space station.
Last month, the firm received a boost when it announced an undisclosed A+ round investment on April 19, 3 months after raising $31.5 million in an A round. Deep Blue Aerospace employed roughly 100 employees last autumn, with some coming from China’s established space sector institutes and enterprises and others from industries such as the car and aviation. Engineers make up over 70% of the crew.
Deep Blue Aerospace reports that the VTVL (vertical takeoff, vertical landing) test in China reached the highest altitude, as well as the fastest speed and longest flight time. Linkspace set an apparent prior altitude record of 300.2 meters in 2019 with its RLV-T5 vehicle. Following a successful static fire test of the bigger, methane-liquid oxygen RLV-T6, Linkspace is now aiming for a 100-kilometer level trial in Q4 this year.
Linkspace and Deep Blue Aerospace aren’t the only Chinese commercial launch companies working on reusability. The methalox Hyperbola-2 rocket is being developed by Beijing-based iSpace, while Space Pioneer, Galactic Energy (Pallas-1), as well as others are also working on liquid propellant launchers with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.
Landspace, one of China’s early movers, has released photographs of its Zhuque-2 rocket, indicating that its first test deployment is imminent. While the deployment is going to be expendable, the company intends to make the methalox rocket reusable.