Success of Zhuque-2 puts China ahead of US firms SpaceX and Blue Origin in developing methane-fuelled space rockets.
A private Chinese company has launched the world’s first methane-liquid oxygen space rocket into orbit, China’s state media reported.
The Zhuque-2 carrier rocket blasted off at 9am local time (01:00 GMT) on Wednesday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, and “completed the flight mission according to the procedure”, state media reported.
The launch was the second attempt by Beijing-based firm LandSpace – one of the earliest companies in China’s commercial space sector – to launch the Zhuque-2, and its success beat out US rivals in developing what may become the next generation of launch vehicles, which are considered to be less polluting, safer, cheaper and a suitable propellant for a reusable rocket.
The first launch attempt of the Zhuqu-2 in December had failed.
News of LandSpace’s successful launch – which places China ahead of rivals such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin in the race to develop space vehicles fuelled by methane – came on the same day that China reported plans to send two rockets to the moon by 2030.
China on Wednesday successfully launched a new carrier rocket into space from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.
The Zhuque-2 carrier rocket blasted off at 9:00 a.m. and completed the flight mission according to the procedure pic.twitter.com/FK6F2RBWuz
— China Xinhua Sci-Tech (@XHscitech) July 12, 2023
According to Chinese state media, one of the two planned rockets will carry the spacecraft that will land on the moon’s surface and the other will transport the astronauts.
Both the rockets will enter the moon’s orbit and after a successful docking the Chinese astronauts will enter the lunar lander to descend onto the moon’s surface, state media reported on Wednesday, quoting a China Manned Space Agency engineer.
The twin-rocket plan would overcome China’s longstanding technological hurdle of developing a heavy-duty rocket powerful enough to send both astronauts and a moon lander probe into space.
After Chinese astronauts have completed their scientific tasks and collected samples from the moon, the lander will transport the astronauts back to the orbiting spacecraft, on which they will then return to Earth, said Zhang Hailian, deputy chief engineer at the China Manned Space, at a summit in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
In 2020, China brought back samples from the moon on an uncrewed mission, making China only the third nation to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union.
LandSpace’s methane-liquid oxygen rocket is deemed to be less polluting, safer, cheaper and a suitable propellant for a reusable rocket.
?Wow! Such a unique angle to watch a rocket launch. Bird view of Zhuque-2 Y2 methane rocket launch shot by a drone right above the launch pad. Full HD: pic.twitter.com/Pz3oSlBLGF
— CNSA Watcher (@CNSAWatcher) July 12, 2023
The Chinese company also became only the second private Chinese company to ever launch a liquid-propellent rocket. In April, Beijing Tianbing Technology successfully launched a kerosene-oxygen rocket, taking another step towards developing rockets that can be refuelled and reused.
Chinese commercial space firms have rushed into the sector since 2014, when the government allowed private investment in the industry. LandSpace was one of the earliest and best-funded entrants.