Chinese launch startup Landspace has successfully sent three satellites into orbit using its third Zhuque-2 methane-liquid oxygen rocket.
Chinese launch startup Landspace has successfully sent three satellites into orbit using its third Zhuque-2 methane-liquid oxygen rocket. WATCH LAUNCH
The historic liftoff occurred at 6:39 pm ET on December 8 from Landspace's launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, marking the company's first successful satellite deployment.
The satellites on board included Honghu, Honghu-2, and Tianyi-33, the latter developed by Spacety, a Chinese commercial satellite company sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this year.
The 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 rocket, also known as "Vermillion Bird-2," stands at 49.5 meters in length, with a diameter of 3.35 meters and a take-off mass of 220 tons.
Powered by four Tianque 80-ton-thrust methane-liquid oxygen engines, it has the capacity to carry 1,500 kilograms to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).
An upgraded version, capable of lifting 4,000 kg, is already in development.
Landspace, which faced a setback in December 2022 with a failed launch, is now aiming to increase production and launch cadence. Plans include three Zhuque-2 rockets in 2024, six in 2025, and twelve in 2026.
In an unexpected turn, Landspace took advantage of the successful launch to unveil detailed plans for the Zhuque-3, a stainless steel rocket.
The two-stage Zhuque-3 will be 4.5 meters in diameter, 76.6 meters long, and have a liftoff mass of about 660 tons. It will be powered by nine Tianque-12B engines, offering a payload capacity of 21,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit (LEO) when expendable.
Landspace plans a 100-meter-level hop test by the end of the year, with final assembly and the first flight scheduled for 2025. Each Zhuque-3 rocket may be reused up to 20 times, a significant step towards achieving cost-effective space travel.
Landspace is actively developing a 200-ton full-flow staged-combustion-cycle engine, anticipated to be ready in 2028. This engine will power a two-stage reusable launch vehicle with a diameter of 10 meters, showcasing the company's commitment to advancing space exploration technology.
Landspace, established in 2015, is one of China's pioneering commercial launch companies. In response to the opening of the space sector to private capital in 2014, the company has made substantial progress in 2023, contributing to 16 of China's 58 orbital launches, alongside other commercial entities like Galactic Energy, iSpace, Space Pioneer, CAS Space, and Expace.