LandSpace, the company that launched the first methane-based rocket, ZhuQue-2, successfully to orbit, was all over the news in the last few weeks. Signs intensified about an imminent third launch of the methane rocket, while the company also detailed ZhuQue-3: its upcoming stainless steel rocket.
Signs of an upcoming launch of ZhuQue-2 started to appear as the company rolled out the pathfinder to its pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China. Harry Stranger spotted the Pathfinder, which is usually used ahead of a launch campaign, on Nov. 11. This signaled a launch in about a month on previous occasions.
Landspace's Zhuque-2 pathfinder went vertical at the launch pad earlier this week as preparations continue ahead of the third flight of the only methane-powered rocket to reach orbit so far.
— Harry Stranger (@Harry__Stranger) November 12, 2023
The pathfinder is used for fit checks and launch pad preparations ahead of launch. While not needed, it is stored next to the launch pad and has been used several times. The company also confirmed the shipment of the third ZQ-2 rocket earlier. The payload for the third flight is unknown. After a failure on the maiden launch, LandSpace made history on its second flight, as ZhuQue-2 became the first methane-based rocket to reach orbit successfully.
On Weibo, the company confirmed days later that the launch of ZhuQue-2 Y3 is planned for Dec. 5 at 7:30 AM Bejeing time (23:30 UTC on Dec. 4).
The company launched ZhuQue-2 for the first time in December 2022. During this flight, the second stage vernier engines failed after a hard shutdown of the main engine of the second stage. The launch still claimed to be the first rocket using methane propellant to reach space (100 kilometers altitude).
The rocket can lift 6,000 kilograms to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 4,000 kilograms to Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). It is 49.5 meters tall, with a diameter of 3.35 meters.
The company plans to expand its launch family to ZhuQue-2A/B and C, based on a similar infrastructure to ZhuQue-2 with more cores and bigger payload fairings. Reusability is also scheduled for the launcher family, as the company is already exploring reigniting the rocket’s engines on the test stand.
In a recent announcement, the company revealed the ZhuQue-3 rocket, which will use stainless steel propellant tanks and a cluster of the company’s Tianque methane engines, according to LandSpace CEO Zhang Changwu.
The rocket aims to have a capability of 20 metric tons to LEO in an expendable configuration, 16.5 tons in a downrange reusable configuration, and 11 tons in a return-to-launch site configuration. Similar to the design of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, ZhuQue-2 will use grid fins and deployable landing legs. The rocket’s design is similar to the design of the Falcon 9, besides the structural material, which is stainless steel instead of aluminum.
The company did not disclose further information about the rocket and indicated its early development state.
China’s massive Chang Zheng 3 B/E flew again in the Zhongxing-6E (ChinaSat 6E) mission. The rocket flew from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Liftoff was at 11:23 UTC on Nov. 9.
ChinaSat is a geostationary orbit direct broadcasting constellation in the C and Ku bands for the China Satcom company. This particular satellite replaced ChinaSat 6B, which was launched in 2007. The hope is to improve communication and provide stable and reliable radio and television transmission. The launch was confirmed to be successful.
Chang Zheng 3B/E has been used to deploy these heavy ChinaSat payloads to high-energy orbits. It is also referred to as 3B/G2 and is the upgraded version of the previously flown 3B variant. It can lift 5,500 kg to a geostationary transfer orbit.
It is one of the most enormous and capable rockets in the Chinese launcher family. It is almost exclusively used for communications, telecommunications, and experimental satellites to GTO and beyond.
On Nov. 16 at 03:55 UTC, a Chang Zheng 2C flew from the JSLC. The rocket lifted the Haiyang-3 01 payload, and the launch was confirmed successful. The rarely used Yuanzhegn 1S upper stage gave the payload more energy.
The payload was Haiyang 3-01, an experimental next-generation Chinese ocean color measurement satellite, which will be used to study the oceans, ocean ecology, and climatic effects on the biological systems of the water. It was launched to an SSO.
The company claims that this is the first satellite to target multiple types of water, including oceans, lakes, and rivers.
On Thursday, Nov. 23, at 10:00 UTC, a Chang Zheng 2D launched three SatNet test satellites to LEO. The official purpose is “Satellite-Internet Technology Demonstration Satellite(s),” built by the Chinese Academy of Science. The most likely use is that these are three test payloads for the SatNet satellite constellation, which is a Starlink-like LEO communication constellation.
(Lead image: Chang Zheng 3B/E Lifts off. Credit: CASC)