China beats rivals to successfully launch first methane-liquid rocket

BEIJING (Reuters) – A private Chinese company launched into orbit on Wednesday the world’s first methane-liquid oxygen rocket, beating US rivals in sending what could become the next generation of launch vehicles into space.

The Zhuque-2 carrier rocket blasted off at 9 am (0100 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China and completed its flight according to plan, state media reported.

It was the second attempt by Beijing-based LandSpace, one of the earliest firms in China’s commercial launch sector, to launch the Zhuque-2. A first attempt in December failed.

Wednesday’s launch put China ahead of US rivals, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, in the race to launch carrier vehicles fuelled by methane, which is deemed less polluting, safer, cheaper and a suitable propellant in a reusable rocket.

LandSpace also became the second private Chinese company to launch a liquid- propellant rocket.

In April, Beijing Tianbing Technology successfully launched a kerosene-oxygen rocket, taking another step towards developing rockets that can be re-fuelled and reused.

Chinese commercial space firms have rushed into the sector since 2014, when the government allowed private investment in the industry. LandSpace was one of the earliest and best funded of the entrants.