China's record-breaking Gravity-1 rocket aces amazing debut launch from ship at sea (video)

A new Chinese rocket just blasted its way into the record books.

The Gravity-1 vehicle, built by Chinese company Orienspace, lifted off for the first time ever Thursday (Jan. 11). The squat, burly rocket rose off the deck of a ship stationed in the Yellow Sea at 12:30 a.m. EST (0530 GMT), sending two big plumes of exhaust, and some impressively large pieces of debris, into a blue sky.

Gravity-1 deployed its payloads — three Yunyao-1 commercial weather satellites — into their planned orbit, according to Orienspace, which declared the debut launch a success. 

Gravity-1 can haul about 14,300 pounds (6,500 kilograms) of payload to low Earth orbit (LEO), SpaceNews' Andrew Jones reported. Today's liftoff made it the most powerful Chinese commercial rocket, as well as the most powerful solid-fueled launcher, ever to ace an orbital mission.

Related: China's Long March rocket family: History and photos

The Gravity-1 launch vehicle, the world's largest solid launch vehicle by capacity, launches from a ship in the Yellow Sea near Haiyang, in Yantai, Shandong Province, China, on Jan. 11, 2024. (Image credit: Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Gravity-1 will be just one of the rockets in Orienspace's stable, if all goes according to plan. 

The company is also developing a vehicle called Gravity-2, which will feature a liquid-fueled core stage and solid rocket boosters. Orienspace is targeting a 2025 debut for Gravity-2, which will likely be capable of lofting 25.6 tons to LEO, according to Jones. 

Then there's Gravity-3, which will combine three Gravity-2 core stages, much as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy features three strapped-together Falcon 9 boosters, Jones wrote. Gravity-3's payload capacity to LEO is projected to be about 30.6 tons.

For comparison: The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy can haul about 25 tons and 70 tons to LEO, respectively, according to their SpaceX specifications pages.

Orienspace's Galaxy-1 rocket rises into the sky on Jan. 11, 2024. (Image credit: Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Today's Galaxy-1 launch was the fourth orbital mission of the year for China. The nation has ramped up its launch cadence to impressive levels recently, with the private sector playing an increasingly important role.

China launched 64 orbital missions in 2022, then broke that national record with 67 in 2023.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • KingKee
    Can someone please 🙏 explain as to WHY??? China is launching a rocket from a ship? Doesn't it seem... odd? Suspicious?
  • Atlan0001
    KingKee said:
    Can someone please 🙏 explain as to WHY??? China is launching a rocket from a ship? Doesn't it seem... odd? Suspicious?
    No. We've done, or thought about doing, sea launches to space. Missile subs and boats, and ships, everyone has.
  • Homer10
    It makes sense. You combine all operations together into one ship launcher. Lower cost. But the ship had better be able to take a large oops when a nasty RUD happens. Could be more damage unless a RUD is planed for in construction of the ship..
  • Unclear Engineer
    China has a problem with its launch sites being far inland, so its boosters fall onto populated areas within China. They are building an additional launch facility on their coast. But, this launch from a ship is another option.

    I hope the ship was uncrewed during the launch.
  • COLGeek
    I will remind members to stick to space and science. Leave the political discussions to other sites.

    Thank you.