The world’s first methane-fueled rocket successfully reached orbit after launch on July 12. The private but government-funded company beat out companies like SpaceX, Relativity and Blue Origin.
A first launch attempt was made in December 2022, but failed due to an early shutdown of the second stage vernier engine. This was the world’s first methane-fueled rocket to be launched beyond the Karman line.
After the failure of the first mission, the Metalox (methane and liquid oxygen) race continued, with Relativity and SpaceX attempting to launch methane-fueled rockets into space, both of which failed. Terran 1 successfully burned its first stage, but failed during its second stage burn in March 2023, similar to Zhuque-2’s first attempt.
In April 2023, SpaceX will test the Starship system. One very obvious difference is the large difference in size between Zhuque-2 and Terran 1. Despite the failure of her eight engines during the first stage combustion, the Starship attempted stage separation, but failed for whatever reason. Damage caused by the destruction of the hydraulic power unit by explosive engine fire.
Zhuque-2 is a medium-lift rocket, weighing 219 tons at launch and powered by four TQ-12 Metalox first stage engines capable of launching up to 6 tons and a vacuum-optimized TQ-12 second stage. It has one engine. Future upgrades to the rocket are 13,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit and -4 tons (8,800 pounds) to sun-synchronous orbit.
At 49.5 meters (162 feet) tall and 3.35 meters (11 feet) in diameter, the rocket is fairly close in size to the original Falcon 9 Version 1, but larger than Relativity’s Terran 1.
It’s an amazing achievement, but all the other companies developing Metalox rockets feature some form of reusability, allowing more mass to be launched into orbit. Only time will tell if Landspace can evolve this rocket to match the US-based launch company’s lofty ambitions.
Landspace may attempt a third launch by the end of 2023.
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