China's private liquid oxygen methane rocket took off again, sending three satellites into predetermined orbits for the first time

China’s privately owned LandSpace Technology launched a liquid oxygen methane launch vehicle independently developed by the company on Saturday (December 9), successfully sending three satellites into the intended orbit. It’s a big step forward for the private startup on the road to commercial satellite launches using low-cost liquid oxygen methane rockets.

Reuters reported in a report that day that Blue Arrow Aerospace’s successful launch will enhance investors’ confidence in using methane as a potential rocket propellant to develop clean and efficient space launches.

Since the Chinese government opened up private enterprises to enter the space launch field, China has several start-up private companies that are developing, testing launch vehicles or conducting commercial launches in order to occupy a place in China’s expanding space launch field. China is developing a Starlink satellite communication system that is similar but not identical to the Starlink satellite communication system launched by Elon Musk that has been combat-proven in the Russia-Ukraine war. For satellites to be networked in space, China’s space launch missions and needs are still huge.

“At 07:39 on December 9, 2023, Beijing time, the Zhuque-2 Yao-3 carrier rocket was launched from my country’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, and the Honghu satellite, Tianyi 33 satellite and Honghu-2 satellite were successfully delivered to the scheduled orbit, the launch mission was a complete success,” said a statement issued by Blue Arrow Aerospace on its official website.

This is Blue Arrow Aerospace’s third test launch of the Zhuque-2 carrier rocket, and also the first time that the rocket has carried a satellite into space.

Blue Arrow Aerospace conducted its first test launch of the Zhuque-2 Yaoyi launch vehicle in December last year, but the launch mission failed. Blue Arrow has not disclosed whether the Zhuque-2 Yaoyi rocket will carry satellites when it is launched.

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However, Blue Arrow Aerospace conducted its second test launch of the Zhuque-2 carrier rocket in July this year. The launch mission was successful, but the rocket did not carry any satellites.

Reuters said that Blue Arrow Aerospace is the first company in the world to use liquid oxygen methane as propellant to launch medium and large launch vehicles. Its technology is ahead of Musk’s Space Exploration Technology Company (SpaceX) and Amazon CEO Jeff Blue Origin, the commercial space company owned by Jeff Bezos.

Blue Arrow Aerospace pointed out in a statement that the two successful launches of Zhuque-2 prove that it is a launch vehicle with reliable performance and can be used for commercial launch missions.

Blue Arrow Aerospace stated that the three satellites launched aboard the Zhuque-2 Yaosan rocket successfully entered a sun-synchronous orbit 460 kilometers away from the earth, but the statement did not mention the type and weight of the satellites.

According to Blue Arrow Aerospace, the Zhuque-2 launch vehicle can deliver a payload with a total weight of 1.5 metric tons into an orbit 500 kilometers above the earth. The company hopes to eventually increase the payload weight to four tons by upgrading the rocket.

The three rockets launched this time aboard the Zhuque-2 Yaosan rocket were developed and manufactured by China’s private Tianyi Research Institute and Hongqing Technology Company. Two of the satellites were designed to provide support for low-orbit satellite networks.

Blue Arrow Aerospace, which has been established for eight years, said earlier this year that it plans to conduct three space launch missions for customers next year and double its launch missions in 2025.

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China’s official Xinhua News Agency quoted Dai Zheng, deputy chief engineer and commander-in-chief of Zhuque 2, as saying that facing the development trend of “large capacity and low cost” in the future commercial space era, the key is to achieve the true industrialization and commercialization of liquid rockets. It is to achieve low-cost, large-scale manufacturing and delivery of rockets and continuous and stable launches.

“Since its establishment, Blue Arrow Aerospace has developed the delivery capability for large-scale commercial launches by building an engine production test base, a rocket manufacturing base and a liquid oxygen methane rocket launch site,” Xinhua News Agency quoted Dai Zheng as saying.