Deep Blue Aerospace conducts 100-meter VTVL rocket test

Space

HELSINKI — Chinese private launch Deep Blue Aerospace completed a 100-meter level launch and landing test with its Nebula M1 VTVL test stage Wednesday.

Deep Blue Aerospace conducted the Nebula M1 vertical landing and vertical takeoff test at a facility at Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province, reaching a height of 100 meters before a powered descent and vertical landing, the company announced Oct. 13.

Footage from the test shows liftoff occurring with landing legs already deployed. The Nebula M1 hovers over the launch and landing area before bouncing after initial touchdown but apparently remaining upright at the end of the video.

The Nebula M1 is powered by a variable thrust Leiting-5 electric-pump-fed kerolox engine.

The test is part of the development of the 2.25-meter-diameter Nebula-1 orbital launcher, with a planned first flight in 2023. The Nebula-1 is to be capable of lifting 500 kilograms to a 500-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit.

The test follows a “hop” to around 10 meters in July which used the same Nebula-M1 reusable VTVL prototype as Wednesday’s test. Deep Blue Aerospace describes the tests as “grasshopper jumps,” referencing SpaceX’s Grasshopper experimental flights as part of Falcon 9 development.

A Deep Blue Aerospace spokesperson told SpaceNews that the technical team is currently reviewing test data ahead of deciding the next steps.

The firm is currently working on the assembly of the followup Nebula-M2 test stage and testing of the launcher’s Leiting-20, 20-ton-thrust kerolox engine.

Beijing Deep Blue Aerospace Technology Co., Ltd. was established in 2017 and is headquartered in Nantong City near the mouth of the Yangtze River. It is one of a number of Chinese private launch companies which have emerged since China’s central government opened up the sector in late 2014. Notably Deep Blue Aerospace is directly developing liquid launch vehicles, skipping solid rockets which a number of Chinese startups have opted to pursue first.

A number of Chinese startups are now developing rockets with reusable first stages. A 2019 test by Linkspace reached an altitude of 300 meters with a small rocket using ethanol and liquid oxygen propellant engines. Linkspace has however been largely silent since then, with satellite imagery indicating no activity at the test site in the Lenghu region of Qinghai province.

Space Pioneer and iSpace are preparing their own hop tests using the Tansuo-1 and a Hyperbola-2 first stage test vehicles respectively. Landspace is meanwhile planning to upgrade its Zhuque-2 methalox orbital launcher for reusability following its first launch which is expected in the coming months.

Galactic Energy, which is gearing up for new launches of its Ceres-1 solid rocket, are also developing a VTVL-capable liquid rocket, Pallas-1.

Huo Liang, founder of Deep Blue Aerospace, first started out with the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), before joining OneSpace, one of the first Chinese private launch companies and a solid rocket maker.

Deep Blue Aerospace has attained national high-tech enterprise and weapon equipment quality management system certification.

The country’s main space contractor, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), is also exploring reusability with its Long March 8 derived from existing Long March rockets, while a reusable variant based on the Long March 6 is being developed by CASC’s Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.

CASC has also made full reusability a future goal for its launch vehicles, including a concept for a reusable super heavy-lift Long March 9.

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