China beats rivals to successfully launch first methane-liquid rocket

BEIJING, July 12 (Reuters) – A private Chinese company launched the world’s first methane liquid oxygen rocket into orbit on Wednesday, beating U.S. rivals to send what could be the next generation of launch vehicles into space.

The Zhuque-2 rocket exploded at 09:00 (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 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 vehicles powered by methane, which is considered less polluting, safer, cheaper and a suitable propellant in a reusable rocket.

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

In April, Beijing Tianbing Technology successfully launched a kerosene-oxygen rocket, taking another step toward developing rockets that can be refilled 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 participants.

Reporting by Ryan Woo; edited by Robert Birsel

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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