With its Gravity-1 all-solid launch vehicle, a young Chinese launch firm broke the record for the most cargo capacity of Chinese commercial rockets and reached space.
On January 11, at 12:30 a.m. Eastern (0530 UTC), Orienspace’s Gravity-1 rocket took off from the Defu-15002 mobile sea platform in the Yellow Sea. Large exhaust plumes were formed when the solid rocket engines ignited, and as the rocket shot skyward, debris could be seen falling into the water. Soon later, the company acknowledged the launch’s success.
The U.S. Space Force space domain awareness later followed the three satellites, Yunyao-1 (18–20), via 478 by 499-kilometer orbits with an inclination of 49.99 degrees.
The mission was Orienspace’s inaugural launch since its founding in 2020. There are four boosters and three stages in Gravity-1. With the use of a kerosene-liquid oxygen third stage, it can transport approximately 6,500 kg of payload to low Earth orbit or 3,700 kg to 700 km sun-synchronous orbit.
Orienspace is a Shandong-based company with establishments there. Shandong is also home to the Haiyang sea launch facilities used for today’s launch. It was able to raise over $150 million in funding over several stages.
The Yunyao-1 satellites are owned by Yunyao Yuhang, a company based in Tianjin, which plans to build a constellation to supply information for weather forecasting around the world. According to its press releases, services might even include short-term earthquake forecasts.
The satellites were made by the commercial remote sensing satellite company Changguang Satellite Technology (CGST).
Yao Song, the CEO of Orienspace, initially gained notoriety in the semiconductor sector. According to prior statements, the company has received orders for hundreds of satellite launches and has been considered for several satellite constellations. Two further Gravity-1 launches are scheduled by Orienspace for 2024.
In the Chinese commercial space industry, the launch’s success is a significant event. When it comes to launch capacity, Gravity-1 is currently the biggest in the industry. It is also the first to launch from the water for the first time, one of only a few to achieve orbit on the first try, and the first to deploy boosters.
Instead than developing reusable liquid propellant rockets first, many commercial firms are focusing on developing light-lift solid rockets. Orienspace elected to proceed with a far more competent launcher as well as working on a larger kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher.
More than twice as much can be carried by Gravity-1 as by the previous largest Chinese solid rockets, Jielong-3 (1,500 to 500-km SSO) from China Rocket and Kinetica-1 from CAS Space. They are both subsidiaries of state-owned businesses. Moreover, it has greater power than the Vega-C in Europe.
Under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the Academy of Aerospace Solid Propulsion Technology (AASPT) supplied the solid rocket motors for Gravity-1. Despite being created in 2020, Orienspace was able to reach orbit because to this cooperation. RSPACE, a rocket component company with facilities in Shandong, also names Orienspace as a customer.
Since the end of 2014, China has been supporting the commercial space industry. By means of a national plan for military-civil fusion, the government made the industry accessible to private capital and offered incentives, regulatory support, and technology transfer facilitation.
Larger rockets have become the norm for Chinese commercial launch companies since 2020. The change was made in response to emerging prospective revenue streams, including as the Guowang and G60 LEO broadband constellations and potential space station cargo missions. This has given more recent businesses, such Orienspace and Space Pioneer, a more distinct vision than those of the early adopters.
The first Chinese commercial liquid propellant launchers were launched into orbit by companies Space Pioneer and Landspace last year. Zhuque-2 and Tianlong-2 are launchers that use methane and kerosene, respectively. Now, both companies are developing larger launchers, which will be unveiled in 2025 (stainless steel Zhuque-3) and mid-2024 (Tianlong-3).
In 2025, Orienspace plans to launch its first rocket using liquid propellant. Solid boosters and a core stage will be features of the 60-meter-tall Gravity-2. For its first stage, the rocket will be powered by nine Yuanli-85 gas generator kerosene engines with a thrust of 100 tonnes.
A cargo capability of 15.5 tonnes to low-Earth orbit (LEO), 10.9 tonnes to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), or 5.8 tonnes to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) was stated in earlier comments. Up to now, 25.6 tonnes to LEO, 19.1 tonnes to SSO, and 7.7 tonnes to GTO are anticipated to be the capacities.
Three Gravity-2 core stages arranged in a Falcon Heavy-style configuration would make up Gravity-3. That is to be capable of transporting 30.6 tonnes of cargo to LEO, 20.5 tonnes to SSO, 9.6 tonnes to GTO and 8 tonnes to lunar transfer orbit.
2024 saw four orbital launches from China, the most recent being Gravity-1. It came soon after the Jan. 9 launch of the Einstein Probe and the Jan. 11 (UTC) launch of the Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket.