A private Chinese aerospace firm called LandSpace, based in Beijing, has made history by successfully launching the world’s first methane-liquid oxygen rocket into orbit. This achievement puts them ahead of global competitors, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The rocket, named Zhuque-2 or ZQ-2 for short, took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gansu Province on Wednesday. It carried a test payload and reached an orbit approximately 500 kilometers (310 miles) above Earth.
The flight lasted 750 seconds, demonstrating the capabilities of the Tianque-12 methane-liquid oxygen engines used in the rocket. These engines are not only safer but also more cost-effective and efficient compared to other solid or liquid fuel alternatives. In addition, the ZQ-2 system is capable of carrying a maximum payload of six tonnes into low-Earth orbit.
One notable advantage of the ZQ-2 is its clean and reusable nature. The methane-propelled rocket requires less time for preparation and refueling, making it suitable for multiple launches. This feature allows for cost savings and increased efficiency in space missions.
LandSpace previously faced a setback in late 2022 when a technical issue with the rocket’s second stage prevented a successful launch. However, the recent success has propelled them to the forefront of methane-based rocket technology, surpassing US-based companies Relativity Space and SpaceX, which are also working on developing methane propulsion systems.
Zhang Changwu, the founder and CEO of LandSpace, expressed his delight at the achievement, stating that it positions China as a leader in the global space race for methane-powered rockets. Looking ahead, LandSpace is now preparing for another test launch and plans to establish a reusable rocket program based on the Tianque-12 engines, aiming for a launch in 2025.
China has made significant advancements in both its public and private space programs in recent years. The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) successfully launched the first module of its Tiangong space station into orbit in 2021, with plans for further missions into 2024. The CMSA also has ambitious goals of sending astronauts to the Moon by 2030 using a liquid kerosene rocket called the Long March 10, which is expected to offer similar benefits to the methane system developed by LandSpace.
The success of LandSpace’s methane-liquid oxygen rocket is a testament to China’s growing presence in the global space industry. With ongoing advancements and ambitious plans, China is solidifying its position as a major player in space exploration and technology.