China’s LandSpace Zhuque-2 Rocket wins methane-fueled rocket race

Landspace's Zhuque-2 heads to orbit (Credit Landspace)

The world’s first methane-fueled rocket successfully reached orbit after launching on July 12th. The private, but government-funded company beat the likes of SpaceX, Relativity, and Blue Origin.

Their first launch attempt came in December 2022, which failed due to the 2nd stage vernier engines shutting down early. This was the world’s first methane-fueled rocket to launch past the Karman line.

Following the failure of the first mission, the methalox (Methane and Liquid Oxygen) race was still on, both Relativity and SpaceX made attempts to launch their methane-fueled rockets to space, but both failed. The Terran 1 had a successful first stage burn, but like Zhuque-2’s first attempt, suffered a failure during the 2nd stage burn in March 2023.

In April 2023, SpaceX gave it a go with their Starship system, one very obvious difference being the massive size difference between Zhuque-2 and the Terran 1. Despite 8 engines failing during the first stage burn, Starship attempted stage separation but was unable due to damage caused by an explosive engine flame-out that took out the hydraulic power unit.

The Zhuque-2 is a medium-lift rocket, weighs in at 219 tonnes at lift-off and is powered by 4 TQ-12 methalox first stage engines and 1 TQ-12 vacuum optimized second stage engine capable of launching ~6 tonnes (~13,000 lbs) to low Earth orbit and -4 tonnes (8,800 lbs) to a Sun-Synchronus orbit for future upgraded versions of the rocket.

The rocket stands 49.5 meters (162 feet) tall and 3.35 meters (11 feet) in diameter, making it fairly close in size to the first Falcon 9 version 1, but larger than Relativity’s Terran 1.

While this is an amazing accomplishment, the other companies developing methalox rockets all feature reusability in some form and can launch much more mass to orbit. Time will tell if Landspace can evolve this rocket to match the higher ambitions of the U.S.-based launch companies.

Landspace could attempt 3rd launch of this by the end of 2023.

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China’s LandSpace Zhuque-2 Rocket wins methane-fueled rocket race
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