The development of reusable missiles is actively underway around the world, and China is no exception. Another aerospace startup from the Middle Kingdom recently conducted jump tests of a prototype of a light-class carrier. They were successful, and now the company is going to repeat within a year or two what only American SpaceX and Blue Origin have done so far: launch a rocket into space, and then vertically land it on Earth using the thrust of its own engines.
According to the portal SpaceNews, the Nebula-M rocket performed its test "jump" at the very end of July. Before that, the tests continued for the whole month: a ten-second burn-in of the engine on July 13 and later two full-fledged fire tests, each lasting a minute. The prototype step climbed almost ten meters up, then hovered in one place and smoothly descended back. Deep Blue Aerospace announced successful tests of its brainchild on the WeChat social platform on August 2.
The small Nebula-M rocket is a prototype and test bench with a height of only 730 centimeters. With its help, Deep Blue Aerospace is working out the technologies necessary to create orbital carriers. The company plans to launch regular launches of the Nebula-1 rocket with a reusable first stage (in a year and a half, maximum two). Its diameter will be 2.25 meters, and it will be able to launch into space 500 kilograms into a sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 500 kilometers.
The creation of a working rocket system for vertical take-off and landing (VTVL, not to be confused with the abbreviation VTOL, which is used in aviation) is a difficult task, but feasible. More than a dozen startups, aerospace companies with a rich history and government agencies have been able to do this. It is much more difficult to make a rocket booster (first stage) that will send a payload into space, and then successfully land on the thrust of its engines.
So far, only two American companies have been able to implement this - Blue Origin and SpaceX. The first is in its New Shepard suborbital system (successful landing in November 2015), and the second is in the first stage of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust heavy-class launch vehicle (December 2015). It is on the achievements of the latter that most developers of similar technologies are guided.
For example, representatives of Deep Blue Aerospace refer to recent tests as "grasshopper jumping", thus without any hesitation referring to the name of SpaceX's test rocket - Grasshopper. It was with the help of this prototype that Elon Musk's engineers have been practicing vertical landing since 2012. But if Chinese private rocket scientists are looking for inspiration in the successes of an eccentric billionaire obsessed with the exploration of Mars, then technical solutions are not "peeping" from him at all.
Thus, the "fiery heart" of Nebula-M is the Leiting-5 engine with wide throttling capabilities thanks to electric fuel and oxidizer pumps. Until now, engineers from only one company, Rocket Lab, have been able to apply this idea on a flying rocket. By the way, the characteristics of Nebula-1, which Deep Blue Aerospace promise to launch in the near future, suspiciously resemble the parameters of the Electron light-class rocket from the same Rocket Lab (only the diameter is much larger).
But don't think that Deep Blue Aerospace's developments are secondary, not at all.To create VTVL is already an achievement, and if a startup still succeeds in making a launch vehicle based on this technology, then there is nothing to say: the success will be colossal. Moreover, the company is making every effort to make the plans a reality. A second prototype, the Nebula-M2, is already in development and will receive a Leiting-20 engine with a maximum thrust of 20 ton-force. The tests are scheduled for the end of the year.
Now in the Celestial Empire, in addition to Deep Blue Aerospace, so many private companies are working on the commercialization of astronautics that it is difficult to count them. Even without touching on satellites and other related technologies, some reusable rockets are being created: Space Pioneer (prototype Tansuo-1), iSpace (Hyperbola-2), Landspace (Zhuque-2 with methane-oxygen engines) and Galactic Energy (Pallas-1) … Several startups have tested and then disappeared from the radar, but there is always a chance that they are just secret.
Such a flourishing of private astronautics in China happened after against the backdrop of the achievements of American startups (then they could still be called that) like Blue Origin and SpaceX. The CCP made it easier for commercial firms to access the aerospace industry in 2014. It is believed that most of these new rocket companies from the Middle Kingdom are just state engineering groups and design bureaus under new names.
However, it is impossible to confirm or deny this due to the incredible closedness of the information field in this country. However, some of the missiles that startups used in the early stages of development are separate stages or whole ballistic missiles.