Pioneering Chinese methane-powered rocket fails to reach orbit

Pioneering Chinese methane-powered rocket fails to reach orbit

Pioneering Chinese methane-powered rocket fails to reach orbit

An illustration of the Zhuque-2 rocket.

An illustration of the Zhuque-2 rocket.
Illustration: Earth space

The Zhuque-2 rocket took off Wednesday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, leaving behind an unusual purplish trail, a product of its unique methane fuel. The rocket managed to get airborne, but failed to reach orbit and deliver the 14 satellites that were on board.

Chinese private aerospace company Landspace hoped to pioneer the use of methane, the new generation rocket fuel– which is considered cleaner and safer than liquid hydrogen, kerosene and other propellants currently in use. Liquid methane is also a good choice in terms of rocket reusability, a coveted capability for space companies.

Beijing-based Landspace launched the doomed Zhuque-2 at 3:30 a.m. ET on Dec. 14, in what was to be the rocket’s first orbital mission. After liftoff, the rocket’s second stage suffered an engine malfunction, resulting in mission failure, Landspace announced on Wednesday. Outside observers had already speculated that the mission was a failure before the company announced it.

Telemetry data suggests the rocket reached speeds of 11,000 miles per hour (5 kilometers per second), when it needed to reach about 17,500 miles per hour (7.8 kilometers per second) to maintain a stable orbit. according to Everyday Astronaut. The rocket carried a commercial payload of 14 satellites, all of which were lost (not sure why the company thought it was a good idea to launch so many satellites on an unproven rocket, but whatever).

Despite its failure, the orbital test flight was still lauded as an important milestone for China and its private space industry as a whole. The Chinese startup had attempted to launch a three-stage Zhuque-1 rocket, which used solid propellant, in 2018. Zhuque-1 also failed to reach orbit, but the company is now ready to switch to liquid methane as propellant.

Had Landspace been successful in launching the rocket into orbit, the company would have beaten Elon Musk’s SpaceX in achieving this vaunted goal. SpaceX also hopes to use liquid methane to fuel it new generation Starship rockets, which have yet to fly. The company’s Falcon 9 and Super Heavy rockets use kerosene as fuel.

Even before its maiden orbital test flight, Landspace was already preparing for the second Zhuque-2 launch attempt, SpaceNews reported. The second and third models of the rocket are already under development, but Landspace aims to finally make the rocket reusable, according to SpaceNews.

China is making significant progress with its spaceflight industry, both on the private and public fronts. In October, China has launched the final form for its own low-Earth orbit space station, completing an ambitious project to rival the International Space Station. China has them too big plans for the Mooncreating future launches that could rival NASA’s Artemis program.

Launching the first ever methane-fueled rocket into Earth orbit would surely give China a major advantage over other space programs. Of course, it all depends on how well the second launch attempt goes.

Moreover: China launches 3 astronauts on its fledgling space station

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