A private Chinese company has stolen a march on US rivals to launch the world’s first methane-liquid oxygen rocket into orbit.
The Zhuque-2 carrier rocket blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Wednesday and completed its planned flight, state media reported, in a crucial breakthrough for what could become the next generation of space launch vehicles.
It was the second attempt by Beijing-based LandSpace, one of the earliest firms in China’s commercial launch sector, to launch the Zhuque-2. A first attempt in December failed.
Wednesday’s launch put China ahead of US rivals, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, in the race to launch carrier vehicles fuelled by methane, which is deemed less polluting, safer, cheaper and a suitable propellant in a reusable rocket.
LandSpace also became the second private Chinese company to launch a liquid-propellent rocket.
In April, Beijing Tianbing Technology successfully launched a kerosene-oxygen rocket, taking another step towards developing rockets that can be re-fuelled and reused.
Chinese commercial space firms have rushed into the sector since 2014, when the government allowed private investment in the industry. LandSpace was one of the earliest and best funded of the entrants.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara