Galactic Energy performed China’s first sea rocket launch

Galactic Energy's Ceres-1 rocket was fitted with a magnesium strip locking mechanism to keep the rocket stable at sea.
Chris Young
Ceres 1 during a previous launch.
Ceres-1 during a previous launch.

Galactic Energy 

Beijing-based Galactic Energy became the first private space company in China to launch satellites from the sea following the latest launch of its Ceres-1 rocket, a report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) explains.

The solid-fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile platform off the coast of eastern Shandong province at 5.34 pm local time on Tuesday, September 6. It carried four satellites to an orbit roughly 500 miles (800 km) above Earth.

The four Tianqi satellites were developed by the private company Guodian Gaoke. They will form part of a low-orbit, narrow-band Internet of Things constellation.

Galactic Energy is also gearing up to launch its reusable Pallas 1 rocket by next year. It hopes the new model will make it the third company in the world, and the first in China, to launch reusable rockets.

Galactic Energy launches Ceres-1 from the sea

The latest launch of Ceres-1 saw the rocket take off from a transport erector launcher fixed to a floating platform. Galactic Energy says the launch is the world's first hot launch of a land transport launch vehicle at sea.

Typically, sea launches have used launch tubes or racks mounted to the platform to hold the rocket in place.

For the Ceres-1 launch, the rocket was fixed to the ship using a magnesium strip locking mechanism attached to the tail end of the rocket.

Before the rocket's engines fired, the magnesium strip locking mechanism ensured the vertical safety of the rocket, which would have been swaying slightly due to the sea conditions. Once the engines began firing, the strip was removed to allow lift-off.

According to Galactic Energy, its magnesium strip locking mechanism is the world's first solid rocket locking and release mechanism that does not use explosives.

Why launch from a sea platform?

One of the key advantages of sea launches is that a drone ship carrying a rocket can be repositioned at relatively short notice, providing greater flexibility that makes it easier to launch to different orbital inclinations.

It can also improve safety as the launch pad can be positioned far from populated areas, busy airspaces, and shipping lanes.

In an interview with SCMP, though, Harvard University astronomer Jonathan McDowell explained that Russian-American company Sea Launch LLC performed 36 launches from the Pacific Ocean between 1999 and 2014.

"Each time they launched from the equator after a long sea voyage from California, which had problems — if your satellite develops a fault and needs fixing before launch, it’s a long trip back. That’s part of the reason why sea launch hasn’t been popular in the US since then," McDowell said.

However, Galactic Energy's launch took place roughly 3 km from the coastline of Haiyang, meaning it was closer to land. Galactic Energy hopes their new technology will allow them to have a high launch cadence, especially as the sea launch method is cheaper than building new facilities on land.

The Ceres-1 rocket is 20 meters tall and can deliver 400kg (880 lbs) to low Earth orbit.

Once complete, the Tianqi satellite constellation will comprise 38 satellites. These will provide data services to civilians as well as military customers, including marine communications, ecological monitoring, and "smart city" communications, according to Galactic Energy.

Galactic Energy's latest launch is its ninth mission and its ninth successful launch, meaning it currently has a 100 percent record.

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