A methane-fueled rocket has achieved near-Earth orbit for the first time, marking a significant milestone during its second test flight.
The ZhuQue-2 rocket, developed by the Chinese startup Landspace, has become the first methane-powered rocket to successfully reach near-Earth orbit, as reported by Sarbaz.kz citing Spacenews.com.
The ZhuQue-2 rocket took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert for its second flight, during which its second stage reached orbit. This achievement was confirmed by observations from the U.S. Space Force, which detected the object on a sun-synchronous orbit with parameters of 431 by 461 kilometers and an inclination of 97.3 degrees. The rocket did not carry any payload.
Several companies around the world are working on methane-fueled rockets, including SpaceX's Starship, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan, Rocket Lab's Neutron, and even Russia's “Roscosmos”.
Methane is regarded as a highly advantageous fuel for reusable rockets. Unlike kerosene, the combustion of liquefied methane produces minimal soot. Methane's combustion residue does not accumulate on engine components. Additionally, its exceptional cooling capability helps mitigate excess engine heating during operation.
Up until now, there have been only three methane-powered rockets that have attempted spaceflight: Starship reached an altitude of 39 kilometers before exploding, the Terran 1 rocket from the American company Relativity Space failed to reach orbit due to engine issues, and the ZhuQue-2 rocket from the Chinese private company Landspace achieved an altitude of 400 kilometers during its first test flight but also encountered second-stage malfunction.