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China's methane-fueled rocket achieves global first with successful orbital insertion
The rocket, named ZQ 2 - or Rosefinch 2, blasts off at 9 am at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, July 12, 2023.
China's methane-fueled rocket achieves global first with successful orbital insertion
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jul 14, 2023

The first successful orbital mission of a methane-fueled rocket has been accomplished by China, a significant breakthrough in the utilization of low-cost and environmentally friendly liquid propellants for carrier rockets. The rocket, known as ZQ 2 or Rosefinch 2, launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in China's northwestern Gobi Desert on Wednesday morning.

The Beijing-based private enterprise, LandSpace, which designed and constructed the rocket, announced that the ZQ 2 successfully delivered an experimental payload into Earth's orbit. This successful mission has set a new record by making the ZQ 2 the largest and most powerful private rocket in China.

The ZQ 2, standing at 49.5 meters and with a diameter of 3.35 meters, is of the same size as most of China's Long March-series rockets. It has a liftoff weight of 219 metric tons and can generate a launch thrust of 268 tons. The rocket is capable of placing a 4-ton satellite into a typical sun-synchronous orbit approximately 500 kilometers above Earth or a 6-ton satellite into a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 200 kilometers.

The ZQ 2's primary propulsion system, the TQ-12, is the first of its kind in China. Prior to this, only a few US companies had developed a methane engine. Unlike conventional rocket engines, which can only function once, a methane engine is both reusable and more environmentally friendly, providing a strategic advantage for future launches.

The ZQ 2's maiden flight took place last December. Although the rocket successfully crossed the Karman Line, the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space, it malfunctioned during its second stage, resulting in a failure to reach orbit. Despite this setback, the world's first attempt to achieve orbit with a methane-fueled rocket was still considered a noteworthy attempt. The ZQ 2 had been closely competing with Relativity Space's Terran 1 and SpaceX's Starship to be the first methane-based rocket in orbit.

Production of the ZQ 2 and its engines occurs at LandSpace's factory in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, which is the first privately owned carrier rocket factory in China and the largest of its kind in Asia.

Wednesday's launch of the ZQ 2 marks an important step forward in the global commercial space competition, traditionally dominated by national entities. This launch signifies a major achievement for private enterprises, showing that commercial and civilian forces also have significant roles to play in this arena.

From 2015 to 2021, the commercial space sector in China has grown steadily, maintaining an average compound growth rate of 22.3 percent. It is predicted to hit 2.3 trillion yuan ($320.77 billion) by 2024.

China's commercial space industry, though a late starter, has been recording a series of successes. This pattern demonstrates the increasing importance of private enterprises in the space industry, which the successful ZQ 2 launch further highlights.

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