Chinese pseudo-company preparing first launch of methane-fueled rocket

The Chinese pseudo-private company, Landspace, is apparently prepping its new launchpad and Zhuque-2 rocket for launch in one of China’s interior spaceports.

Satellite imagery and deleted social media postings indicate that work is progressing on a new complex for facilitating methane-liquid oxygen launch vehicles at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Timelapse and high resolution satellite imagery show the development near the national Jiuquan center in the Gobi Desert and suggest the presence of a Zhuque-2 test article. A recent, now-deleted article indicates a new flame trench has been completed at Jiuquan.

The article at the link also cites statements by the company’s CEO in November, where he claimed they would launch in the first quarter of ’22. If successful, it would be the first orbital launch of a methane-fueled rocket, beating out both SpaceX’s Starship and Blue Origin’s New Glenn.

The article also says that the company is working on making the first stage reusable, which makes sense in that it will launch from inside China and that first stage if expendable will crash uncontrolled on Chinese territory. A second Chinese pseudo-company, iSpace, also claims it will begin hop tests of its own reusable rocket later this year.

For new readers: I call these companies pseudo because they really are not independent entities, as private companies are in the west. China’s government since 2014 has allowed private investors to create these companies and for the companies to compete against each other for government business, but none of them do anything without the full supervision of the Chinese government. Most have completed their first launches using solid rockets, technology almost always reserved for military use. None could have done so without that government permission and control.

The strategy here of China’s government is nonetheless smart, as the policy is creating competition and thus some innovation within its aerospace industry. The top-down control however will likely prevent these companies from doing anything truly different. Instead, they are apparently latching onto the new ideas, such as methane-fueled rockets and vertically landing first stages, that they have seen demonstrated by the truly independent private companies in the west.