China wins Methane Rocket Race

On July 12, the Chinese company LandSpace successfully launched the Zhuque-2 rocket. It became the first methane carrier in history to reach orbit. 

Methane Rocket Race

In recent years, a large number of players in the aerospace market have engaged in the creation of rockets using methane as fuel. Among them are SpaceX (Starship spacecraft/Super Heavy accelerator), ULA (Vulcan rocket), Blue Origin (New Glenn rocket) and a number of other companies, including the Chinese LandSpace. The increased interest in methane is explained by the fact that, due to its characteristics, it is better suited as a fuel for reusable rockets.

Launch of the Terran 1 rocket. Source: Relativity Space

It was LandSpace that became the first company to attempt to reach orbit using a methane rocket. However, the launch of Zhuque-2, which took place in December last year, ended in an accident. The next was the startup Relativity Space, specializing in the creation of 3D-printed media. However, due to an engine malfunction, the Terran 1 rocket failed to reach the first space speed and fell into the Atlantic Ocean.

The first orbital test of Starship. Source: SpaceX

The first orbital test of Starship also failed. As for Vulcan, its debut flight was postponed indefinitely due to the consequences of the explosion of the second stage on the test stand. All this allowed LandSpace to prepare a new copy of the Zhuque-2.

Zhuque-2 rocket

Zhuque-2 is a medium-class launch vehicle. It is 49.5 meters, diameter — 3.35 meters. It can carry up to six tons of cargo into a 200-kilometer low-Earth orbit and up to four tons into a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.

Launch of the Zhuque-2 rocket. Source: weibo

The second launch of Zhuque-2 took place on July 12. The rocket was launched from the Jiuquan Cosmodrome. This time everything was successful. The second stage of the rocket managed to develop the first space speed and enter orbit. Since the launch was of a demonstration nature, there was no payload on board.

Thanks to this success, LandSpace has inscribed its name in the history of cosmonautics as the first company that managed to build a methane rocket that reached orbit. In the near future, it plans to conduct new launches of the Zhuque-2, but this time it will already have a payload on board. As for LandSpace’s competitors in the methane race, they received a good incentive to step up work and put their rockets into operation as soon as possible.

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