A small but powerful Chinese rocket capable of carrying payloads at competitive costs delivered nine satellites into orbit Saturday, Chinese state media reported, in what is gearing up to be another busy year for Chinese commercial launches.
The Jielong-3, or Smart Dragon-3, blasted off from a floating barge off the coast of Yangjiang in southern Guangdong province, the second launch of the rocket in just two months.
Developed by China Rocket Company, a commercial offshoot of a state-owned launch vehicle manufacturer, Jielong-3 made its first flight in December 2022.
President Xi Jinping has called for the expansion of strategic industries including the commercial space sector, deemed key to building constellations of satellites for communications, remote sensing and navigation.
Also Saturday, Chinese automaker Geely Holding Group launched 11 satellites to boost its capacity to provide more accurate navigation for autonomous vehicles.
Last year saw 17 Chinese commercial launches with one failure, among a record 67 orbital launches by China. That was up from 10 Chinese commercial launches in 2022, including two failures.
In 2023, China conducted more launches than any other country except for the United States, which made 116 launch attempts, including just under 100 by Elon Musk's SpaceX.
Critical to the construction of commercial satellite networks is China's ability to open more launch windows, expand rocket types to accommodate different payload sizes, lower launch costs and increase the number of launch sites.