Chinese Startup’s Reusable Rocket Looks Awfully Familiar

Chinese Startup’s Reusable Rocket Looks Awfully Familiar

The new era of spaceflight is all about reaching orbit in the fastest and cheapest way possible, and reusable rockets have defined the future of the industry. That’s why so many companies are trying to get in on the action, including a Chinese startup that recently pulled off the first flight test of a reusable first stage prototype that lasted around a minute.

China’s Landscape tested its Zhuque-3 VTVL-1 rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Mongolia on Friday, January 19, with the reusable launch vehicle taking off and hovering close to the ground for approximately 60 seconds before landing vertically on the launch pad, according to the company. The rocket reached an altitude of around 1,000 feet (350 metres) and landed within about 7 feet (2.4 metres) of its designated touchdown spot.

“The rocket lands smoothly and the landing point is accurate,” Landscape wrote. “The test mission was a complete success!” The brief hop was used to test the rocket prototype’s vertical landing capabilities in an effort to develop the company’s first reusable rocket.

The 60-foot-tall (18.3-metre) Zhuque-3 rocket will eventually feature a payload capacity of 20 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) when expendable, and carry 16.5 metric tons for recovery missions. It uses stainless steel propellant tanks and a high-thrust liquid oxygen-methane engine.

Landscape first unveiled its plans to develop the reusable rocket in November 2023 at the Mingyue Lake Aerospace Information Industry International Ecosystem Event in Chongqing, China. Another Chinese startup, iSpace, carried out a test of its own reusable rocket in November 2023 with a vertical landing demonstration at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Other companies, like Galactic Energy, Space Pioneer and Deep Blue Aerospace, are also working on their own reusable liquid propellant rockets.

The Chinese private sector’s reusable ambition is comparable to the skyrocketing success of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which can carry 25 metric tons to LEO, and the Falcon Heavy rocket, with a payload capacity of 64 metric tons.

SpaceX is way ahead of the game with its reusable rockets. The company’s main rival, Blue Origin, developed its own reusable rocket, New Shepard, but it’s only capable of reaching the edge of space rather than delivering payloads to Earth orbit on a regular basis like SpaceX.

China’s space industry, on the other hand, is just getting started. The private space sector in China has been growing over the past 10 years after the Chinese government allowed investments to flow into spaceflight companies rather than continue to let state-owned enterprises dominate the field.

Landscape was one of the first private space companies to be founded in China, and it has enjoyed relative success in playing catchup with its western counterparts. In July 2023, Landscape launched the world’s first methane-fueled rocket to orbit, beating SpaceX to it. Elon Musk’s private space venture is also hoping to use liquid methane fuel to power its next generation Starship rockets. Similar to SpaceX, Landspace is also using stainless steel as building material for Starship.

China’s Landscape may not be able to catch up with SpaceX in terms of the reusability of its rockets, but the company is moving forward with its launch vehicle with hopes of seeing it reach orbit for the first time in 2025.

Image: iStock

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