Chinese pseudo-company launches first satellite

The new colonial movement: The pseudo-private Chinese company Galactic Energy today successfully completed its first orbital launch, placing a small satellite into orbit using its Ceres-1 rocket.

Galactic Energy is the fourth Chinese private launch company overall to make an orbital launch attempt, all with light-lift solid launchers. Landspace made the first attempt in October 2018, with OneSpace following in March 2019. In July last year iSpace became the first to successfully achieve orbit with its Hyperbola-1 launch.

The 19-meter-long, 1.4-meter-diameter Ceres-1 can loft 350 kilograms to low Earth orbit or 230 kilograms to a 700-kilometer SOO. It consists of three solid stages and an advanced liquid upper stage. [emphasis mine]

That all of these companies are using solid rockets explains why I call them “pseudo private.” They might be raising independent venture capital money to fund their operations, and they might be aimed at earning a profit, but solid rocket technology is always the primary technology used for military missiles, and none of these Chinese companies could do anything without the close and very firm permission and supervision of the Chinese communist government. In fact, their very existence is likely because that Chinese communist government wants them to exist.

Nonetheless, this launch raises China’s launch capabilities. The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

29 China
19 SpaceX
12 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. is still ahead of China, 30 to 29, in the national rankings.

Another Chinese state-sponsored company about to launch orbitally

Galactic Enterprise, another Chinese state-sponsored “private” company, says it will attempt its first orbital launch this coming June.

The rocket is named Ceres-1, after the largest body in the asteroid belt, and will launch from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. With three solid fuel stages and a liquid propellant fourth stage, it will be able to lift 350 kilograms of payload to an altitude of 200 kilometers in low Earth orbit. [emphasis mine]

Want to know why I do not consider this a real private company? From the article:

[Galactic Energy CEO and founder Liu Baiqi] earned a PhD from the prestigious Beihang University in Beijing before moving to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a major subsidiary of the country’s main space contractor. He says everyone on the core team at his company has 10 to 20 years of background in research and development, as well as experience in spaceflight.

The Chinese national strategy of military-civil fusion is a crucial ingredient in China’s nascent commercial launch sector. It facilitates the transfer of restricted military technologies for civilian use, and vice versa. Liu notes that the strategy strengthens China’s commercial aerospace companies by establishing supply chains, providing access to test and launch sites, and securing orders from the government. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text in both quotes above explains all. First, solid rocket technology is almost always reserved for missiles, as it can be stored easily for long periods, yet be ready to launch quickly. No private company, even in the U.S., can use it without heavy government involvement.

Second, Liu admits that his entire team comes from China’s long established space industry, which has always been dominated and controlled by that country’s government and military. I guarantee that everyone in his company has security clearances, and has worked on the past for China’s missile programs

Third, Liu’s own words confirm my conclusion. He calls it a “military-civil fusion,” but that’s just government weasel-words, another way of saying the government is running the show, entirely. It might be allowing him to form his own operation, using investment capital from Chinese investors, but everything he does is approved and supervised by the Chinese military and government.

It is for this reason I will not list these Chinese “companies” separately in my launch race updates, like I do with U.S. companies. They are not really private, or separate. They are all divisions of China’s military-communist government, and thus should be lumped together.