The sight of a Falcon-9 rocket landing in an upright orientation is not an unusual sight. It seems that the Chinese aerospace firm LandSpace is getting in on the act with their new Zhuque-3 (I don’t even know how to pronounce that) reusable methane rocket. The prototype booster took off, reached a height of 350 metres and landed 60 seconds later about 100 metres away on a landing pad. LandSpace have revealed this test showcases key technologies that will be used for their upcoming reusable rocket.
It is a rather fitting tribute that China has just completed the vertical takeoff and landing test for the Zhuque-3 rocket since it was they who spearheaded the invention of the rocket back around the 13th Century. Back then of course, these were nothing more arrows propelled by chemical reactions. Somewhat different to today’s technology but still it set the foundations for rocket flight.
The recent test of Zhuque-3 took place in the Gobi Desert in northwestern China last Friday (19th January). The company behind the project, LandSpace, are a commercial aerospace company based in China and they reported the flight lasted for a full minute before returning safely babck down to Earth. The rocket returned successfully and with a landing accuracy of 2.4 metres.
Whilst this was just a test flight, the rocket stood 18.3 meters tall and just 3.35 meters across which is full size for the final version. It represents the first stage of the final launch configuration which is due for launch in 2025 (exact date still to be published). It was good news for the team that confimred the variable thrust and landing guidance control technology worked as planned.
Last Friday’s test flight had a weight of 50 tonnes although future tests will see that ramped up to 68 tonnes. On landing, and due to fuel burn, the rocket legs were able to support the remaining 40 tonnes. The engine behind all of this is an 80 tonne methalox engine which goes by the name Tianque-12. Methalox fuel is a combination of liquid oxygen and methane and has been successfully used by Space X in their Starship missions. Previous tests of the engine have seen ground burns where it is strapped to the floor, of more than 27 hours.
LandSpace are now setting their sights higher. The next test flight later this year will take the rocket up to the dizzy height of 10km. Finally, in 2025 comes the full launch with the fully configured rocket standing 76 meters tall and a lift off weight of 660 tonnes. And all this comes as a reusable launch capability that can be used more than 20 times. Excellent and exciting times for the Chinese space industry.