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Space Pioneer Secures $207 Million Funding for Tianlong-3 Rocket

Space Pioneer, formally known as Beijing Tianbing Technology Co., Ltd, has secured over 1.5 billion yuan ($207 million) in its latest funding round, termed “C+.”

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Sun Jun 09 2024Written by Zac Aubert

Space Pioneer, formally known as Beijing Tianbing Technology Co., Ltd, has secured over 1.5 billion yuan ($207 million) in its latest funding round, termed “C+.” This funding aims to support the development and launch of the Tianlong-3 rocket, as well as its mass production and conversion for reusability.

A diverse group of at least 15 investors participated in this funding round, including both private equity and state-linked investment vehicles. Among the notable contributors are Wuxi Chuangfa, CCTV Fund, CITIC Securities Investment, Hefei Ruicheng, and SDIC Taikang from the state sector. Private equity and investment firms like Bohua Capital Management, Guoyu Gaohua, and Deyue Investment also played a significant role.

This substantial investment follows another significant funding round in October of last year, where Space Pioneer raised “several hundred millions of yuan.”

The cumulative funds raised by the company now exceed four billion yuan ($552 million), positioning Space Pioneer as potentially the most well-funded commercial launch company in China.

The newly acquired funds will primarily be allocated towards the first launch of the Tianlong-3 rocket, alongside its mass production and development into a reusable vehicle. Additionally, the company plans to ramp up the production of the smaller Tianlong-2 rocket.

Tianlong-3, also known as "Sky Dragon-3," is a two-stage kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket. The first stage is powered by nine Tianhuo-12 engines, which are designed to be reusable in future iterations. The rocket, measuring 71 meters in length with a diameter of 3.8 meters, is capable of lifting 17 tons of payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) or 14 tons to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.

Space Pioneer aims to conduct a static fire test of the Tianlong-3’s first stage by the end of June, with the inaugural launch anticipated in the following months. The company has ambitious plans to launch up to 30 Tianlong-3 rockets annually.

National and Strategic Significance

Tianlong-3 represents the largest commercial rocket nearing launch readiness in China, promising to significantly enhance the nation's launch capabilities. It will rank second only to the expendable Long March 5B in terms of payload capacity to LEO, which stands at 25 tons. This increased capacity is crucial for the deployment of satellite batches, particularly for China’s extensive megaconstellation plans.

China's central government has identified commercial space as a critical industry for the future. Cities and provinces are actively formulating policies to foster growth and innovation within the sector. This strategic emphasis is part of a broader national objective to develop a world-leading satellite Internet system and bolster China’s comprehensive space capabilities.

Constellation Launches and Infrastructure

Space Pioneer is poised to contribute to the construction of China’s national satellite internet project.

China has registered three extensive plans for satellite constellations, each comprising over 10,000 satellites. These include the national “Guowang” project, the Shanghai-backed G60 Starlink constellation, and the Honghu-3 constellation, recently registered with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by a firm associated with Landspace.

The establishment of these megaconstellations is seen as a national security priority, aimed at securing limited frequencies and orbital planes while countering SpaceX’s Starlink network, which China’s military suspects of potential military applications.

Commercial Launch Infrastructure

To support the burgeoning commercial launch sector, China is constructing a new commercial launch center near Wenchang on Hainan Island. This facility will accommodate the increasing number of commercial launch activities required to realize the megaconstellation plans.

Space Pioneer has also announced intentions to build a dedicated launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

Competitive Industry

Space Pioneer stands out in a crowded field of commercial launch vehicle developers in China. The company made history in April 2023 by becoming the first Chinese commercial firm to reach orbit with a liquid-fueled rocket, the Tianlong-2. This achievement highlights Space Pioneer’s leadership and innovative capabilities within the sector.

Other notable competitors include Deep Blue Aerospace, which recently announced “hundreds of millions of yuan” in new funding and plans for its first orbital launch and stage landing attempt in the second half of 2024. Companies like iSpace, Landspace, Galactic Energy, and others are also developing advanced rockets with varying payload capacities and propulsion technologies.

Space Pioneer’s latest funding round marks a significant step towards realizing its ambitious goals for the Tianlong-3 rocket. As China continues to prioritize commercial space development, companies like Space Pioneer are crucial to achieving the nation's strategic objectives in space.