China’s flagship methane-fueled rocket has failed to reach orbit

Illustration of a Zhuque-2 missile.

Illustration of a Zhuque-2 missile.
Clarification: Land area

A Zhuque-2 rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Wednesday, leaving behind an unusual purple trail – a product of the unique methane fuel. The rocket managed to take off, but failed to reach orbit and transfer the 14 satellites on board.

China’s private aerospace company Landspace had hoped to lead the way in using methane Next generation rocket fuelWhich is cleaner and safer than liquid hydrogen, kerosene and other fuels currently in use. Liquid methane is too Good Choice In terms of rocket reuse, which is a desirable capability for space companies.

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

Telemetry data indicates that the missile reached a speed of 11,000 mph (5 kilometers per second), when it needed to reach about 17,500 mph (7.8 kilometers per second) to maintain a stable orbit, According to Everyday Astronaut. The rocket was carrying a commercial payload of 14 satellites, all of them lost (not sure why the company thought it was a good idea to launch so many satellites on an unproven rocket, but whatever).

Although it failed, the orbital test flight was He continues to be lauded as a master For China, and its space industry as a whole. It had a Chinese startup try to to launch the Zhuque-1 three-stage rocket, which uses solid fuel, in 2018. The Zhuque-1 also failed to reach orbit, but the company is now intent on switching to liquid methane as a propellant instead.

Had Landspace succeeded 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 fuel to power them The next generation of spacecraft rocketsthat have not flown yet. The company’s Falcon 9 and Super Heavy missiles Use kerosene for fuel.

Even before its first orbital test flight, Landspace was already preparing for the second attempted launch of Zhuque-2, SpaceNews mentioned. The second and third prototypes of the rocket are already in development, but Landspace aims to eventually reuse the rocket, according to SpaceNews.

China is making great progress in the spaceflight industry, both private and public. in October, China launched the final unit It has its own space station in low Earth orbit, completing the ambitious project to rival the International Space Station. China also has some Big plans for the moonand preparing future launches that could compete with NASA’s Artemis program.

Launching the first methane-fueled rocket into Earth orbit would certainly give China a huge advantage over other space programs. Of course, it all depends on how successful the second launch attempt will be.

more: China launches 3 astronauts to its nascent space station

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