Landspace Launches 3rd Methane Zhuque-2, Targets 2025 Launch of New Stainless Steel Rocket

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Landspace Launches 3rd Methane Zhuque-2, Targets 2025 Launch of New Stainless Steel Rocket

On Friday, Chinese launch startup Landspace achieved a significant milestone by successfully placing satellites into orbit and unveiling details about its new stainless steel rocket. The third Zhuque-2 methane-liquid oxygen rocket took off at 6:39 p.m. Eastern on December 8 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. Landspace confirmed the success of the launch an hour later.

The payload included the Honghu, Honghu-2, and Tianyi-33 satellites, with the latter being developed by Spacety, a Chinese commercial satellite company. U.S. Space Force space domain awareness has cataloged four objects associated with the launch in orbits inclined by 97.3 degrees.

The Zhuque-2, also known as "Vermillion Bird-2," boasts dimensions of 49.5 meters in length, 3.35 meters in diameter, and a take-off mass of 220 tons. Powered by four Tianque 80-ton-thrust methane-liquid oxygen engines in the first stage, it can carry 1,500 kilograms to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). An upgraded version with an improved second stage engine aims to lift 4,000 kg.

This successful launch marks the first time Landspace has deployed satellites into orbit. Following a failed first flight in December 2022 and a successful one in July 2023, the company is now focused on increasing production and launch frequency. Plans include launching three Zhuque-2 rockets in 2024, six in 2025, and 12 in 2026.

Additionally, Landspace revealed plans for its stainless steel Zhuque-3, a two-stage rocket with a diameter of 4.5 meters and a total length of 76.6 meters. Powered by nine Tianque-12B engines, it will have a liftoff mass of about 660 tons and a payload capacity to low Earth orbit (LEO) of 21,000 kilograms when expendable. The company targets a 100-meter-level hop test by the end of the year, with final assembly and the first flight of Zhuque-3 planned for 2025. Each Zhuque-3 is designed for reuse up to 20 times.

Landspace CEO Zhang Changwu shared the company long-term vision, including the development of a 200-ton full-flow staged-combustion-cycle engine expected by 2028. This engine will power a two-stage reusable launch vehicle with a 10-meter diameter. The achievements of Landspace contribute to the broader success of Chinese commercial launch companies in 2023, marking a breakthrough year for this sector. Other players, such as Galactic Energy, iSpace, Space Pioneer, CAS Space, Expace, and upcoming entrant Orienspace, have collectively accounted for 16 of China 58 orbital launches this year, showcasing the growth and dynamism of the country commercial space endeavors.

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