(Yicai Global) July 9 -- LandSpace Technology has unveiled the most powerful carrier rocket developed by a private Chinese company and is making preparations for its maiden flight in 2020.
The Beijing-based company's ZQ-2 is a mid-sized rocket that has a total thrust of 268 tons and can send a payload equivalent to two large sport-utility vehicles into space at one time. LandSpace aims to complete all ground tests by next year.
Private capital has moved into the space technology sector in recent years with an eye on the lucrative market for putting satellites into orbit. The investments have started to show results. A commercial rocket developed by another private aerospace firm, One Space Technology, completed its first flight in mid-May.
The payload capacity of the future version of LandSpace's ZQ-2 is expected to surpass US-based SpaceX's Falcon 9 and will be able to can carry out missions such as space station shuttle, deep space explorer and moon lander, Chief Executive Zhang Changwu told Yicai Global.
Detailed designs for the ZQ-2 and its supporting 100-ton liquid oxygen methane-fueled engine were completed in June. Production of core components such as thrust chambers, turbopumps and valves has now started.
The ZQ-2's primary feature is cost-effectiveness. The price of the liquid oxygen methane-fueled propellant used is about CNY5 (USD0.75) per kilogram, much lower than that of liquid oxygen kerosene at more than CNY10 per kilogram, and liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen at CNY100 a kilogram.
The company's self-built intelligent manufacturing base, and 100-ton liquid-fueled engine thermal test bench in eastern China's Zhejiang province are expected to be completed and put into use this year, it said.
LandSpace is positioned on the same starting line as the world's leading rocket development companies, although the ZQ-2's capacity is still much lower than that of SpaceX and Blue Origin. Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technology, better known as SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin each plan to launch a liquid oxygen methane-fueled rocket.
Mid-sized liquid-fueled launch vehicles are in short supply, Zhang said. Only firms that can develop mid-sized rockets will have a seat at the commercial launch table with demand for medium and low-orbit satellites as the mainstream.
Medium launch vehicles with a payload capacity of 1.5 to 4 tons in near-earth orbit accounted for more than half of all rockets sent up from China as of the middle of this year, while it was 60 percent overseas, LandSpace Chief Technology Officer Kang Yonglai said. Demand is greatest for such vehicles, he added.
Editor: Ben Armour