The rocket, named ZQ 2 - or Rosefinch 2, blasts off at 9 am at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, July 12, 2023. (Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn)
China successfully flight-tested a methane-propelled carrier rocket on Wednesday morning at a launch facility in its northwestern Gobi Desert, marking the first orbital mission of any methane-fueled rocket in the world.
The rocket, named ZQ 2 - or Rosefinch 2, blasted off at 9 am at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and transported an experimental payload into Earth's orbit, said LandSpace, a Beijing-headquartered private enterprise that designed and built the rocket.
The successful mission also made ZQ 2 the largest and most powerful private rocket in China.
According to LandSpace, the 49.5-meter ZQ 2 has a diameter of 3.35 meters — the same as those of most of China's Long March-series rockets, a liftoff weight of 219 metric tons and a launch thrust of 268 tons.
The vehicle is capable of placing a 4-ton satellite into a typical sun-synchronous orbit about 500 kilometers above the Earth, or a 6-ton satellite to a low-Earth orbit with an altitude of 200 km.
The rocket's main propulsion system — TQ-12 — is the first methane engine in China. Before LandSpace, only a handful of US companies had developed such engine.
Compared with traditional types of rocket engines that can function only once, a methane engine is reusable and more environmentally friendly.
The maiden flight of the ZQ 2 model happened in December at the Jiuquan center. The rocket successfully crossed the Karman Line, the globally recognized boundary between Earth's atmosphere and the edge of space, but malfunctioned in its second stage and failed to reach orbit. That was the world's first attempt to achieve orbit with a methane-fueled rocket.
The Chinese model had been in a close race with Relativity Space's Terran 1 and SpaceX's Starship to be the first methane-based rocket in orbit.
LandSpace is making the ZQ 2 and its engines at its plant in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, the first privately owned carrier rocket factory in China and the largest of its kind in Asia.