China's Space Pioneer closes $207m round to mass produce heavy-lift rockets

China's Space Pioneer closes $207m round to mass produce heavy-lift rockets

Photo from Space Pioneer's official WeChat account

Chinese commercial launch company Space Pioneer has secured over 1.5 billion yuan ($207 million) in a Series C+ round of financing to advance its product portfolio including medium and large liquid launch vehicles and rocket engines.

Space Pioneer, also known as Beijing Tianbing Technology, has so far completed 15 funding rounds with more than 4 billion yuan ($552.2 million) in cumulative financing since its inception in 2019, said the firm in a Thursday statement.

The new financing will be used to fund the first launch and mass production of Tianlong-3, a heavy-lift liquid launch vehicle developed by Space Pioneer as part of its efforts to introduce low-cost, reusable products to China’s nascent yet fast-growing commercial launch market.

Since Beijing opened up parts of its long state-run space industry to private capital in late 2014, the Chinese commercial launch market has taken off, with venture-backed companies like LandSpace Technology, iSpace, and Galactic Energy among some of the first private entities to successfully reach orbit. 

The domestic commercial launch market is expanding at an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20% in the years from 2017-2024. Its overall size is projected to hit 2.34 trillion yuan ($323 billion) in 2024, according to Chinese consultancy iiMedia Research.

For Space Pioneer’s latest round, the firm roped in a large group of domestic investors, such as the state-owned Wuxi Industry Development Group, private market investment companies Jundu Investment and Hongfu Asset Management, as well as a 10-billion-yuan ($1.4 billion) government fund-of-funds managed by China’s Broad Vision Fund, it said in the statement.

The firm did not disclose its latest valuation, but Space Pioneer is said to have reached a valuation of 15 billion yuan ($2.1 billion) when it completed an earlier round at “a few hundred million Chinese yuan,” led by CITIC Construction Investment, in October 2023.

Beijing-headquartered Space Pioneer runs two R&D centres in Beijing and Xi’an, as well as an experiment facility in Zhengzhou. With a total investment of 4 billion yuan ($552.1 million), its intelligent manufacturing factory in Zhangjiagang City in eastern China started operations in April.

Its partially reusable launch vehicle Tianlong-3, which the firm claims to be comparable to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, aims to provide launch services for medium-sized payloads of up to 17 tonnes (17,000 kg) to low Earth orbit (LEO), and as much as 14 tonnes (14,000 kg) to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). 

Designed to carry 30 satellites on one single launch, Tianlong-3 is scheduled to have its maiden flight in July from the Wenchang Commercial Space Launch Site, China’s first commercial space launch site located on the southern Hainan island and expected to be put into service later this year.

Space Pioneer plans to invest part of the new funding in the reusable development of the two-stage Tianlong-3, which is partially reusable with the first stage capable of performing an autonomous vertical landing and being reused up to 10 times.

The firm will also use the investment to finance the mass production of its Tianlong-2, a three-stage, liquid-fuelled rocket that started services in early 2023.

Edited by: Joymitra Rai

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