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China’s LandSpace Readies Satellite Launch with Methane-fuelled Rocket

In News, Technology Updates, World
December 05, 2023

Beijing-based LandSpace Technology, one of China’s private space companies, is preparing to launch satellite payloads to orbit in a key commercial test of its methane and liquid oxygen fuelled rocket. Investors and rocket developers have said methane could offer a way to help slash costs and support reusable rockets in a cleaner and more efficient manner.

LandSpace’s Zhuque-2 carrier rocket was transferred to the launch area of a space facility in the Gobi Desert on Friday and is readying for launch, designated Y-3, the company said on its Weibo social media account. The company did not specify a launch window for the rocket, which will blast off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia.

LandSpace aims to prove the feasibility of Zhuque-2 with three test launches; the first two were Y-1 and Y-2, a company representative said on Tuesday. If Zhuque-2 is validated, LandSpace plans to provide clients about three launches in 2024 and double that number in 2025, the representative said.

LandSpace declined to provide details on the launch date or the number and type of the satellites to be carried by Y-3. Chinese commercial space firms have rushed into the sector since 2014, when the government allowed private investment in an industry now dominated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

LandSpace was one of the earliest and best funded of the Chinese space startups aiming to tap into the demand for rocket launches amid growing competition to place satellites in low-Earth orbit as an alternative to Musk’s Starlink. In July, LandSpace hit a benchmark in that race with the launch of the world’s first methane-liquid oxygen rocket, the Zhuque-2 Y-2, putting China ahead of U.S. rivals including SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Before Y-2, which didn’t carry a usable satellite, LandSpace said that Zhuque-2 Y-1, the first test rocket, failed a launch last year, without specifying whether it carried any satellite payloads. Founded in 2015, LandSpace has secured funding from investors including venture capital firm HongShan, known at that time as Sequoia Capital China, the investment arm of Chinese property developer Country Garden and the state-backed China SME Development Fund.

LandSpace’s latest announced fundraising was in 2020, when it raised 1.2 billion yuan ($168.14 million). The company has had fundraising rounds of undisclosed sizes since, Chinese company record tracking database Tianyancha showed. In July, LandSpace founder and CEO Zhang Changwu told Chinese publication Yicai the company had started developing reusable rockets and expected to conduct a test launch in the second half of 2025.

LandSpace rival OrienSpace, founded in 2020, said it plans to launch its first solid-fuel rocket, Gravity-1, in December. ($1 = 7.1368 yuan)