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SQX-2Y rocket demonstrates vertical take-off and landing capabilities
iSpace engineers prepare the company's first orbital carrier rocket in July 2019. Photo: Courtesy of iSpace.
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SQX-2Y rocket demonstrates vertical take-off and landing capabilities
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 06, 2023

In a significant step for China's burgeoning commercial space sector, a new reusable rocket has achieved a critical flight test milestone, performing a vertical take-off and landing sequence with precision. The SQX-2Y rocket, developed by Beijing-based i-Space, executed the maneuver flawlessly, signaling China's advancing capabilities in an area dominated by select space-faring entities.

On a clear Thursday afternoon, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in the vast expanse of Northwest China, observers witnessed the 17-meter-tall demonstration rocket ignite its engines and ascend skywards. The rocket, powered by a propulsion system utilizing liquid oxygen and methane-a combination favored for its efficiency and reusability-achieved a peak altitude of 178.42 meters, carving a brief but bold arc against the blue backdrop of the sky.

The flight, lasting just over 50 seconds, culminated with the rocket descending back to Earth, maneuvering to land smoothly within approximately 1.68 meters of its target location. Such precision is remarkable, with the rocket's final descent speed measured at a delicate 0.025 meters per second, demonstrating a controlled and calculated landing operation that underpins the feasibility of rocket reusability.

This flight test's success is more than a technological demonstration; it is a collection of valuable data points that will underpin the development of future medium and large reusable rockets fueled by liquid oxygen and methane. i-Space has heralded the mission for its acquisition of "core data of key technologies," which will undoubtedly serve as a bedrock for subsequent design and engineering decisions.

Reusable rocket technology represents a pivotal frontier in space exploration and satellite deployment. By allowing for the recovery and re-flight of rocket stages, this technology can dramatically reduce the cost of access to space-a factor that is becoming increasingly important as commercial interests in space operations intensify.

The test is also a visible marker of China's growing footprint in the commercial space sector, a domain where competition is intensifying globally. With this successful test, i-Space has not only demonstrated its technical prowess but also laid down a gauntlet in the wider space industry's push towards sustainable and cost-effective launch systems.

i-Space, though a relative newcomer in the field of rocket development, has shown with the SQX-2Y test that innovation and progress in space technology are not the sole dominion of established space agencies and well-known private entities. The firm, and by extension China, is poised to play a formidable role in the next wave of space innovation.

The advent of reusable rockets is not merely a technical exercise but a fundamental shift in how humanity approaches space travel and exploration. With each successful test, the promise of a future where space is accessible and operations therein are sustainable becomes incrementally tangible.

The success of the SQX-2Y vertical take-off and landing test thus marks not only a significant milestone for i-Space and China but also a moment of progress for the global space community. It is a testament to the relentless pursuit of technological advancement and the unyielding spirit of discovery that propels humanity towards the stars.

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