Rockets of Today

NEBULA (Xīngyún, 星云) — China

This rocket was supposed to be ready quite soon, so I knew I had to write it up, but for a long time I couldn’t because there was just nothing to say. Finally I just went ahead with what little I could find. I have no idea whether the company is even legit enough to be worth the effort. The company’s name is Shēnlán Hángtiān (深蓝航天), or Deep Blue Aerospace.

Most of the more technical info I could gather is from the company’s website, which has a “中文|EN” language button that in the early days didn’t work. All I could gather between that and news reports is that the Nebula-1 will be a two stage smallsat launcher with maybe nine 3D-printed kerosene engines on the first stage, with a thrust of 360 kN apiece in vacuum. The engine is called the 深蓝雷霆-20 (Shēnlán léitíng-20, or Deep Blue Thunder-20), and rumor says it’s a closed-cycle engine, like maybe an oxygen-rich staged combustion design, but I have no confirmation. The upper stage apparently uses the same engine, presumably with a vacuum bell.

Then the site also illustrates a Nebula-2 model, which is shown as a Nebula-1 with landing legs photoshopped on. So yeah, they plan to try for reuse with vertical landings. They also mention a Thunder-100 engine with 1000 kN of thrust. Apparently this will be for the Nebula-2, which will be larger, with a capacity goal of 4.5 tons. I think the picture showing a group of nine engines applies to this rocket.

Some journalists are saying that they will attempt reuse on the Nebula-1, but I have no source for the origin of this assertion.

So far all they’ve built is a small Nebula-M test vehicle. In the fall of 2021 this did a hop test, rising 100 meters and then landing on legs. This was preceded by a 10 meter hop. So now they are apparently going for reuse up front. This hopper had electrically pumped engines. Not bad, but these guys might still be years from reaching orbit, let alone doing so reusably with a bigger rocket. But that didn’t stop them from claiming in 2020 that they would launch by the end of that year.

Nebula-1: Mass unknown, diam 2.25 m, thrust 2.7 MN?, imp unknown, type unknown (kerosene), payload ~0.7 t, cost unknown.