Deep Blue Aerospace Raises Nearly $31.5 Million for Partially Reusable Launch Vehicle

Grasshopper test vehicle in flight. (Credit: Deep Blue Aerospace)

Translated from Chinese by Google Translate

NANTONG CITY, China (Jiangsu Deep Blue Aerospace PR) — On January 18th, Jiangsu Deep Blue Aerospace Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as: Deep Blue Aerospace) announced the completion of the A round of financing of nearly 200 million yuan. This round of financing was led by Zhencheng Investment, Detong Capital, Ou Rui Capital, Galaxy Ventures, Zhuoyuan Capital co-invested. 

Deep Blue Aerospace is the only rocket company in China that realizes the recovery and reuse of liquid oxygen and kerosene vertical take-off and landing. The direction of recycling and reusing launch vehicles is the commanding height of the future development of rocket technology, and has huge commercial and social value.

The funds raised in this round will be mainly used for the development of the Nebula-1 liquid rocket, the verification of the rocket’s recyclable and reusable technology, and the preparation for launch, as well as the construction and training of the talent team. In the follow-up, the company will continue to strengthen the research and development of the Nebula-1 rocket, the development of the Thunder series engine, the 3D printing additive manufacturing process and the testing and research of recyclable and reusable capabilities. 

Deep Blue Aerospace will continue to maintain its technological leadership in the field of recyclable and reusable liquid rockets in China, and actively explore the construction of a commercial rocket ecological chain, continuously promote the innovation and upgrading of additive manufacturing, and fully respond to “strive to build a aerospace power and a world science and technology power.”

Deep Blue Aerospace focuses on the direction of liquid recovery and reusable launch vehicles. It is a commercial aerospace high-tech enterprise that develops and produces reusable and reusable rockets and provides launch services to the market. Deep Blue Aerospace is headquartered in Nantong City, Jiangsu Province. It has rocket general and liquid engine R&D centers in Yizhuang, Beijing and Xi’an, Shaanxi, respectively; and a rocket power system test base in Tongchuan, Shaanxi. 

Grasshopper test vehicle (Credit: Deep Blue Aerospace)

At the end of July 2021, Deep Blue Aerospace completed the first vertical take-off and vertical landing (VTVL) free flight, the vertical recovery flight test of the launch vehicle known as the “Grasshopper Jump”. In October 2021, Deep Blue Aerospace successfully completed the 100-meter-level VTVL vertical recovery test again. A series of breakthroughs in vertical recovery and reuse mark the technological leadership of Deep Blue Aerospace in domestic liquid recoverable and reused rockets.  

The recyclable launch vehicle of the only commercial rocket company in China that can benchmark with Space X technology is the pinnacle of contemporary human launch vehicle technology.

One of the keys to developing space resources and going “deep blue”

At present, only the United States’ Space Exploration Technology Corporation (hereinafter referred to as SpaceX) has the orbit-level recoverable launch vehicle technology. As of January 7, 2022, the Falcon 9 carrier rocket has successfully launched 49 Starlink satellites, SpaceX has achieved 79 rocket reuse flights, 101 take-off stages have successfully landed, and the maximum number of take-off stages of a single carrier rocket can be reused up to 11 times. 

This dazzling achievement has not been surpassed in a short period of time. At the same time, the Chinese people are inevitably looking forward to it: When will China be able to master the technology of recyclable launch vehicles?  Looking back at SpaceX’s development history, and then studying the current development strategies of domestic commercial aerospace companies, perhaps only Deep Blue Aerospace can give the answer.

It is true that recoverable launch vehicle technology is not achieved overnight, and there is a arduous and long research and development process behind it. As the first SpaceX to achieve the recovery and reuse of orbit-level launch vehicles, its early research and development work can be described as difficult, and even violent explosion accidents occurred many times during the test. However, if you look back at SpaceX’s technological development process, its development ideas are clearly discernible, as shown in Table 1.

Earlier, SpaceX tried to use a parachute to recycle the rocket, but the rocket re-entered the atmosphere so fast that it burned out before the parachute could be deployed. After demonstration, Musk believes that parachute recovery is unrealistic, and he put the research and development goal on the more difficult but more meaningful vertical take-off and landing (VTVL) – the use of liquid rocket engine power throughout the process to achieve rocket launch and recovery. Liquid rocket engines have significant advantages in the field of rocket recovery, especially needle-bolt liquid rocket engines, whose thrust can be flexibly adjusted and have the ability to repeatedly start, which is one of the mainstream methods of current rocket recovery technology.

Deep Blue Aerospace chose the needle-type liquid rocket engine as its research direction. At present, the “Leiting-5” liquid oxygen kerosene engine has been successfully developed – the engine has a vacuum thrust of 50 kN, and the speed of the oxidizer and fuel pump is adjusted by a 100-kilowatt motor, which can achieve 50%-100% thrust adjustment, and has been successfully applied to the meter-level and 100-meter-level VTVL tests of the Nebula-M rocket. 

Needle-bolt injection technology can suppress unstable combustion and reduce vibration during the process of adjusting thrust, so as to achieve a smooth thrust adjustment function. In addition, the use of liquid oxygen kerosene as fuel for Thunder series engines also has unique advantages. This combination of propellants can provide higher density specific impulse, improve carrying capacity, and have higher operational safety and more mature and reliable engineering.

Deep Blue Aerospace’s rocket engine manufacturing technology is also unique in China. Eighty-five percent of the parts by weight of the Thunder-5 engine are made by 3D printing technology. It is the first needle-pin liquid oxygen kerosene engine manufactured by 3D printing technology in China. 3D printing technology can significantly shorten the product manufacturing process and reduce costs. 

The rocket engine, which was originally composed of hundreds of parts, can be greatly reduced in the number of parts after using 3D printing technology, and the probability of failure in actual working conditions can be reduced. In addition, the market suppliers of traditional engine manufacturing technology are limited, and there are more 3D printing technology market suppliers with a wide range of sources, and the market-oriented environment has more significant advantages in competition.

Deep Blue Aerospace has gnawed on the three hard bones of the pin-bolt engine, liquid oxygen kerosene fuel and 3D printing technology, which is a solid guarantee for the success of the subsequent VTVL test.

Deep Blue Aerospace adheres to the differentiated technology route, and the most important thing is to explore the whole process of the development of liquid recoverable rockets

The development process of SpaceX’s recyclable rockets has the characteristics of “from small to large, from simple to complex”. First, SpaceX developed a small recoverable test rocket, the Grasshooper, to conduct low-altitude, low-speed hover and landing tests, a process later known as the “grasshopper jump.” It can be seen from Table 1 that the flight test height of SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket is progressive, and it only jumped 1.8 meters at first. The fourth test achieved a 100-meter-level VTVL (80 meters), and the eighth test achieved a kilometer-level VTVL (744 meters). , SpaceX has obtained a large amount of data on the VTVL recovery technology of the rocket, which has accumulated valuable experience for the next larger-scale test version of the Falcon 9 rocket VTVL flight.

In just three months, from the meter level to 100 meters, Deep Blue Aerospace created a maximum flight altitude of 103.2 meters for the vertical recovery test of China’s liquid oxygen kerosene rocket. Among them, the Nebula-M No. 1 test vehicle has undergone three ground static ignition tests and 10-meter and 100-meter VTVL tests, with a total working time of more than 200 seconds; the supporting Thunder-5 engine has become the first in China. This type of liquid oxygen kerosene engine has been repeatedly used for many actual flights. The cumulative number of operations is more than 10 times, and the cumulative working time is about 600 seconds. It has undergone the test of large-scale thrust adjustment in different flight trajectories, showing its adaptability to repeated use.

Through these two tests, Deep Blue Aerospace has realized the whole process of private liquid launch vehicles: recovery of liquid rockets (overall design, control system, rocket body structure, power system and variable thrust engine), ground equipment and facilities, final assembly test process, launch process , recycling and reuse processes have been tested, which is a powerful demonstration of the all-round strength of Deep Blue Aerospace. Next, Deep Blue Aerospace will also conduct a kilometer-level VTVL flight test, completing the flight altitude achieved by SpaceX in eight tests in three tests.

Rapid self-iteration and innovation make Deep Blue Aerospace a rapid rise in the commercial aerospace landscape

After completing the “Grasshopper Jump” test, SpaceX pushed the boat forward and tested the kilometer-scale VTVL hover and landing test on the larger-scale beta Falcon 9 (Falcon 9 Reusable, F9R) carrier rocket, and successively in December 2015. On the 21st and April 8th, 2016, the first-stage recovery and landing of the Falcon 9 core on land and sea barges was successfully achieved. At this time, it was only 1.8 meters away from the “Grasshopper” rocket, and only more than three years have passed. SpaceX has broken the limitation that rockets cannot be recovered vertically with one thunderous achievement. At the same time, SpaceX’s valuation has increased from $970 million to $12 billion exponentially, achieving a 12-fold increase.

Today, the all-powerful Falcon 9 has a very high launch and recovery success rate. The step-by-step development strategy is one of the secrets of SpaceX’s success in breaking through the siege.

Stones from other hills, can learn. SpaceX has pointed out a feasible direction for the development of recyclable rockets around the world, and the detours SpaceX has taken in the development process can also provide valuable experience for latecomers. Deep Blue Aerospace is on the way to explore China’s reusable launch vehicle technology, allowing us to see the dawn of China’s future recyclable rockets.

Deep Blue Aerospace is at a key node of “from small to large, from simple to complex.” Li Jianwei, founding partner of Zhencheng Investment said: “Deep Blue Aerospace is currently equivalent to SpaceX’s stage in 2013, a key turning point from non-consensus to consensus formation.”

In the short term, Deep Blue Aerospace will conduct a kilometer-class rocket VTVL recovery test, 20 tons The test run of the Thunder-20 grade liquid oxygen kerosene engine. The Thunder-20 engine will be used in the Nebula-1 launch vehicle in parallel with 9 rounds. The take-off thrust exceeds 150 tons, and the low-Earth orbit carrying capacity can reach more than 2 tons. In the long run, it will be reused for 20 to 20 tons. As a powerful supplement to China’s national aerospace team, Deep Blue Aerospace will continue to promote the exploration of aerospace enterprises in the direction of rocket recovery, greatly reduce the cost of rocket launch, and aspire to become a promoter of the space transportation industry.

Investors’ Messages:

Li Jianwei, the founding partner of Zhencheng Investment, said: “Accurately benchmarking SpaceX in the United States, Deep Blue Aerospace has a clear and focused technical route, leading research and development progress, and an independent and controllable supply chain of core components. These are the main reasons for Zhencheng’s capital injection. The 100-meter test completed by Deep Blue in October last year is the first time a team outside the United States has completed a vertical recovery test with engineering value, which is a milestone. Through liquid recyclable technology and private supply chain support for key components, Deep Blue has the opportunity to become an effective supplement to the state-owned aerospace system.

Space X has experienced several failures before slowly figuring out a technical path for recycling and reuse. From 2012 to 2015, SpaceX’s technical verification in the direction of recyclability and reuse was successful, and its valuation increased from $970 million to $12 billion, a 12-fold increase. Deep Blue is currently the equivalent of SpaceX’s 2013 stage, a key turning point from non-consensus to consensus formation. We expect the Deep Blue team to realize the recyclability of the Nebula series of rockets in the near future, greatly reduce the launch cost, and contribute to China’s more active participation in future space development.

Geng Jian, partner of DT Capital, said: The major aerospace powers in the world have raised commercial aerospace as a national strategy. Although China started later than foreign commercial aerospace, it has developed rapidly in recent years with the support of the state, local governments and social capital. Commercial aerospace is still a high-tech, high-risk, long-term investment track, but we should still maintain full confidence and sufficient endurance in high-end manufacturing and high-tech-related fields. We will continue to pay attention to and support Deep Blue Aerospace, and look forward to the debut of the Nebula-1 rocket!

Ge Yuan, a partner of Ou Rui Capital, said: The current pattern of commercial aerospace and commercial rockets is full of variables, but Deep Blue Aerospace’s innovation in recyclable and reuse technology, especially the 3D printing of the engine and even the 3D printing of the entire rocket in the future, will become the success we foresee. Quantitative.

Xu Fang, managing partner of Galaxy Ventures, said: Galaxy Ventures has always focused on digital supply chain investment around the manufacturing industry. We have always believed that China’s manufacturing industry, which has been upgraded through digital and intelligent technologies, will definitely lead the world and allow China to supply It is also the mission of our fund that the chain becomes a global infrastructure.

Deep Blue Aerospace is precisely benchmarking SpaceX in the commercial aerospace field, focusing on the development and manufacture of liquid recoverable rockets. This is a great opportunity for China’s commercial aerospace to make headway. The policy dividend of China’s commercial aerospace has been opened. To develop the unknown vast universe, low cost and recyclability are the best solutions. We also believe that DeepBlue Aerospace has unique business sensitivity and uniqueness that other entrepreneurs do not have. Highly focused research and development spirit

We are optimistic about Mr. Huo and the team he leads. We believe that they will become the pride of China Aerospace and make China Aerospace a first-class in space exploration. This is the real hard technology in China. We are full of expectations for Deep Blue. Be confident!

Lin Haizhuo, founding partner and CEO of Zhuoyuan Capital, said: “The future commercial aerospace has unlimited prospects and space. We are optimistic about the industry benchmarking position of Deep Blue Aerospace in the global private rocket company, and we are optimistic about Deep Blue Aerospace’s development of reusable space vehicles for a long time. Pioneering research results in the field of rockets and the construction of space-to-earth round-trip transportation systems.

Zhonghuijin Capital said: As industrial capital, the economic and social benefits brought by rocket recycling will be significantly improved. Exploring the research and development and application of this new technology of rocket recycling and reuse will inevitably drive the common development of the upstream and downstream of the industry chain. Looking forward to Deep Blue Aerospace producing China’s “Falcon 9”, Zhonghuijin will firmly embark on a journey of stars with Deep Blue Aerospace. Kaplan Capital said: Exploring new technologies requires manpower, material and financial resources to truly achieve subversive breakthroughs. The path chosen by Deep Blue Aerospace is also the direction that capital is worth going in the future.

Jiayi Foundation said: Recyclable and reusable rocket technology is a global research hotspot and has epoch-making significance in the transformation of commercial rocket technology. Deep Blue Aerospace is creating more and more new records of China’s recyclable rockets. We are optimistic about the development trend of the industry and the level of the core technical team represented by Mr. Huo, and hope to accompany the company’s development in the long term.

Xianfeng Changqing said: After a long-term and in-depth investigation and understanding of the future trends of commercial aerospace, we value the strategic positioning of Deep Blue Aerospace focusing on the development of recyclable and reusable aircraft-like launch vehicles and the construction of space-to-earth round-trip transportation systems. Aerospace is creating a new era of commercial rockets together.

As the lead investor of the angel round, Shunwei Capital said: The key to success in the commercial rocket field lies in having a reasonable cost-reducing technology path. We have seen the shadow of Space X in Deep Blue Aerospace. The excellent team of DeepBlue Aerospace and the development route in line with business logic make DeepBlue Aerospace a huge potential to become a leading enterprise in China’s commercial aerospace field. We look forward to DeepBlue Aerospace making greater progress in the field of recyclable and reusable rockets!

Zhizhuo Capital said: Empower promising start-up companies, focus on high-tech Chinese manufacturing and Chinese intelligent manufacturing, and invest in the new future of the space economy.

Juzi Capital said: In order for an enterprise to become a real leader in the industry, we conclude that the most important thing is to have a consistent development goal and a founder who takes this as the goal. Aiming to become a promoter of the space transportation industry, a goal that is clear enough to carry the dreams of entrepreneurs, is the reason why we are optimistic about Deep Blue Aerospace when there is only one founder.