The World’s First Attempt To Reach Orbit With A Methane-Fueled Rocket Has Failed

The world’s first methane-fueled rocket launched into orbit failed to reach its target. The Zhuque-2 rocket, developed by Beijing-based company Landscape, lifted off Wednesday (Dec. 14) on the first-ever orbital mission of a methane-fueled launcher and China’s first liftoff of a commercially developed liquid propellant rocket. Despite the high hopes for the historic mission, it appears that Zhuque-2 failed to reach orbit and lost the 14 satellites it carried.

The launch took place on Wednesday at 3:30 a.m. EST (0830 GMT) from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert and was intended to place a variety of commercial satellites into sun-synchronous orbit. However, the rocket’s second stage failed, resulting in a mission failure and the loss of all satellites, according to reports.

Apparent spectator footage posted on Chinese social media showed the rocket ascending into clear skies, trailed by the white exhaust. While the first stage is understood to have performed well, separate apparent leaked footage suggests that issues affecting the rocket’s second stage failed in the mission.

Data indicates that an expected burn of the stage’s vernier thrusters, which were supposed to carry the stage and payloads into orbit after the main engine burned out, did not occur as planned. Chinese launch successes are typically announced immediately following orbital insertion successes. At press time, eight hours after launch, there had been no official announcement of mission success or failure.

The launch took place on the JSLC’s Pad 96. It is a spaceport that has already seen over 100 launches, including the majority of the Chang Zheng (Long March) vehicles. It was previously home to the company i-space, which launched its suborbital rockets from the center. Furthermore, the Hyperbola-1 rocket became the first commercial orbital launch from a Jiuquan pad in 2019.

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