New launch vehicles set for test flights from China’s Jiuquan spaceport

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HELSINKI — Newly-developed orbital and suborbital launch vehicles are being readied for test flights at the Jiuquan spaceport as China’s efforts to foster a commercial space sector advance.

Landspace, a Beijing-based launch startup, is working towards the launch of its Zhuque-2, methane and liquid oxygen rocket. 

The mission, expected in the near future, will represent the first launch of a liquid propellant launch vehicle by China’s nascent commercial space sector. 

The government opened sections of the space sector in late 2014. The move has so far brought a proliferation of solid launchers, with mixed success. Liquid launch capabilities would represent a leap for the sector.

As previously reported by SpaceNews, Landspace has constructed infrastructure at Jiuquan to facilitate methane and liquid oxygen launchers.

 The firm’s Zhuque-2 is powered by gas generator engines and will be capable of delivering a 6,000-kilogram payload capacity to a 200-kilometer LEO, or. 4,000 kilograms to 500-kilometer SSO, according to Landspace.

Zhuque-2 could become the world’s first methane-fueled rocket to make a launch attempt, with SpaceX also working towards a full test flight of the much larger Starship.

Landspace has set up an intelligent manufacturing base in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province and established a $1.5 billion medium and large-scale liquid rocket assembly and test plant at Jiaxing, also in Zhejiang.

Meanwhile another Chinese launch firm, iSpace, is developing its own methalox rocket, the Hyperbola-2. The firm recently unveiled a first stage test article at Jiuquan in preparation to conduct hop tests.

The hop tests will be carried out ahead of a potential orbital launch in 2023, with reusability a key target for the Hyperbola-2. The Zhuque-2 will initially be expendable, but Landspace aims to convert it to make the first stage recoverable.

CAS Space, a spinoff from the state-owned Chinese Academy of Sciences, is also preparing for its first launch from Jiuquan, with its ZK-1A (Lijian-1) solid rocket. 

The ZK-1A is to be capable of lifting 1,500 kilograms to a 500-kilometer SSO, making it the most powerful solid launch vehicle in China, ellipsing the Long March 11.

CAS Space is also working on larger solid rockets and reusable liquid launchers.

China Rocket, a spinoff from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) under the country’s main space contractor, CASC, has conducted a series of tests as it targets a first launch of the comparable Jielong-3 solid rocket no earlier than September.

Jiuquan has undergone an expansion in recent years to facilitate the surge in space launch actors and meet a growth in demand for launch.

CASIC has also established infrastructure at Jiuquan for launches of Kuaizhou-1A and larger Kuaizhou-11 rockets using transport erector launchers.

An explosion occurred at Jiuquan in October 2021 at facilities in Jiuquan, but apparently did not disrupt major operations at the spaceport.

Jiuquans is not the only spaceport expanding. A ground breaking ceremony for a commercial launch site at the Wenchang coastal space center was held July 6.

The Hainan Commercial Space Launch Site project invited representatives from commercial companies Landspace, iSpace, Deep Blue Aerospace, Space Pioneer, CAS Space and Orienspace.

The project also aims to attract CASC, CASIC and China SatNet, a state-owned enterprise established in 2021 to coordinate a national telecommunications megaconstellation project.