New Chinese launch firm signs deal for reusable rocket engines

HELSINKI — Rocket Pi of China has signed a deal with a liquid rocket engine maker for supply of engines to power its Darwin-1 reusable launch vehicle.

The deal, announced by methane-liquid oxygen engine maker Jiuzhou Yunjian Oct. 30, is for Lingyun-70, 70-ton (sea level) thrust engines with deep throttling capabilities and 12.5-ton (vacuum) thrust Lingyun-10 engines and is worth “tens of millions of yuan” (10 million yuan = $1.56 million).

A single Lingyun-70 will power the first stage of the 2.25-meter-diameter Darwin-1 launcher with a Lingyun-10 engine on the second stage.

Rocket Pi secured financing of tens of millions of yuan in July. That report also stated that Darwin-1 was slated for a test flight in early 2023.

The launcher was previously stated to be capable of carrying 270 kilograms into low Earth orbit or 150 kg into a sun-synchronous orbit. However, these earlier plans also indicated that the Darwin-1 first stage would use five Lingyun-10 engines instead of a single Lingyun-70.

New Chinese launch entrant Rocket Pi announced itself in March, presenting plans to develop Darwin-1 and a larger, medium-lift launcher. It also stated plans to launch the “Sparkle-1” biology experiment payload on a Long March rocket in late 2021 as well as launching what was described as an orbital space biology lab around 2025.

Founder Cheng Wei also hinted at grander plans including contributing to the development of an “Earth-moon space economic zone,” a notion put forward by the leader of China’s main space contractor, CASC. Rocket Pi was co-founded by Zhuang Fengyuan, a professor of space life sciences at Beihang University. 

Jiuzhou Yunjian is a Beijing-based aerospace startup founded in 2017. This year JZJY has conducted numerous tests of its Lingyun-10 and Lingyun-70 engines, including full hot fire and restart tests

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