Beijing LandSpace Technology Corporation Ltd. (北京蓝箭空间科技有限公司) has recently closed a 200 million yuan Series B round. The round was led by the new energy solution provider Goldwind (金凤科技), which was joined by existing investors including Shiji Tianhua, Guokai Ronghua, FounDream and PGA Venture Partners.
The latest investment, along with the several rounds the company raised before, brought its total funding to over 500 million yuan (approximately US$79 million).
LandSpace is a private rocket developer and manufacturer founded in June 2015 by a group of top technical experts from state-owned organizations. The company is working on China’s first privately funded liquid rocket engine and a medium-sized liquid oxygen (LOX)/methane-fuelled launch vehicle.
Its focus at the current stage is the development of a rocket engine powered by LOX and methane. This actually represents a trend in the commercial aerospace industry: LOX and methane are used as propellants by both SpaceX’s Raptor and Blue Origin’s BE-4. Liquid-fuel engines are more technologically demanding than engines that use solid propellants and therefore take more time to develop, but once you crack them, you nail the most important part in building a spacecraft.
In March 2018, LandSpace successfully tested the thrust chamber of its proprietary LOX/methane engine Phoenix. According to people familiar with the matter, LandSpace will conduct hot-fire tests on engines of all sizes at the end of this year, an important step towards the launch of its prototype engines.
LandSpace put into operation its R&D centers in Beijing and Xi’an in tandem after 2015. Once the LandSpace Intelligent Manufacturing Base in Huzhou starts operation, the company will see faster progress in engine development, LandSpace’s team noted.
LandSpace’s main products are medium-sized launchers powered by LOX and methane. In the next two years, the company will remain focused on the development and manufacturing of LOX/methane engines and carrier rockets. It will target the small- and medium-sized launcher market worldwide by providing standard launch services.
LandSpace plans to equip itself with the ability to independently design, manufacture, assemble and test LOC/methane engines in three years and complete the assembly and testing of its medium liquid launcher by 2020, with the goal of growing into a company with presence throughout the value chain of medium launch vehicles, from R&D, design to the final launch.
LandSpace has also developed LandSpace-1, a small, solid-fuelled four-stage launcher with a payload of 300kg and the first rocket orbital launch vehicle in China developed by a private company. It’s expected to finish production in the second half of 2018.
The business model of commercial rocket companies is simple. They design and manufacture rockets and work together with launch sites and tracking, and control companies to provide downstream clients with rocket launch services. At present, space launch remains a seller’s market as the manufacturing of carrier rockets and the launch services provided worldwide are far from meeting the demand for satellite launches.
Since the company’s team has more experience and channel resources in overseas markets, the orders it has received so far are mostly from outside China, said ZHANG Changwu, founder of LandSpace, but it has also been approached by some domestic research institutes.
LandSpace employs a team of around 140 people at the moment. Founder and CEO ZHANG Changwu is a MBA from Tsinghua University and has previously worked at HSBC and Banco Santander. Co-founder and CTO WU Shufan holds a PhD from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was once a scholar sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and has worked at the European Space Agency for nearly 15 years. He also served as a senior engineer at Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.