Tianlong 3: China's Space Pioneer to launch next-generation rocket in 2024

China's Space Pioneer founder, Kang Yonglai, says "the rocket will become the pillar of the country's commercial launch market."
Chris Young
Tianlong 2 during its debut launch.
Tianlong 2 during its debut launch.

Space Pioneer

Beijing-based Space Pioneer, the first startup to ever reach orbit on its first launch attempt, plans to fly its new rocket, the Tianlong 3 (TL 3), as soon as 2024.

The company said it hopes the new rocket will become a pillar of China's commercial space industry, a report from state media publication China Daily explains.

Space Pioneer's next-generation rocket

Space Pioneer became the first company to reach orbit on its first launch after its Tianlong-2 (TL 2) rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan launch facility in northwest China on April 2. It also became China's first and only private company to have reached orbit with a liquid-fuel rocket.

As a point of reference, it took SpaceX four attempts to reach orbit with its Falcon 1 rocket, and its massive Starship launch system spun out of control on its first orbital launch attempt in April. It was manually terminated before it could reach the required altitude.

Research and development on the TL 3 "started at the end of 2021," Kang Yonglai, founder and chairman of Space Pioneer, told China Daily in an interview.

"We have completed its design work and have begun to build some components," Yonglai added. "The model's maiden flight is scheduled to take place in the first half of 2024 at its service tower at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (in northwestern China)."

If the debut launch of TL 3 is as successful as the first launch of Tianlong-2, then Space Pioneer will aim to launch TL 3 another two times in the second half of 2024. Then, the plan would be to launch TL 3 a further 12 times in 2025.

The TL 3 will be 71 meters (233 feet) tall and have a diameter of 3.8 meters. It will reportedly generate 590 tons of thrust and have a liftoff weight of 590 tons. It can send satellites with a combined weight of 14 tons to a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of approximately 500 kilometers.

A variation, called the TL 3H, will be 88 meters tall (288 feet), will have two side boosters, and will be able to carry 68 tons of payload to low-Earth orbit or 42 tons into a sun-synchronous orbit.

"The TL 3 will be able to send spacecraft with a combined weight of more than 10 metric tons into various orbit types. It is fit for deploying large satellites or a large number of small satellites on a single mission. The rocket will become the pillar of the country's commercial launch market," Kang said.

China's rising space industry

China's space industry is advancing at a dramatic pace. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has achieved some impressive milestones recently, including sending rovers to the Moon and Mars.

It is the only country currently operating its space station, the Tianjong orbital station, without international collaborators, as with the US and Russia's International Space Station (ISS) operations.