China unveils first private commercial medium-sized rocket

China’s first private commercial medium-sized rocket was recently unveiled in Beijing, just five months after U.S. company SpaceX launched its own heavy-lift launch vehicle, Falcon Heavy.

The Chinese rocket ZQ-2, powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen fueled engines, is the most powerful private rocket in terms of operational payload currently under development in China.

The rocket’s maiden launch is expected to take place in 2020.

The ZQ-2 was developed by LandSpace, a private rocket manufacturer based in Beijing. To some extent, the Chinese company is positioned at the same starting line as the world’s leading rocket companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Though the ZQ-2’s payload is much lower than those of the SpaceX and Blue Origin rockets, it is still able to send two large SUVs into space.

“Liquid-propellant medium-sized rockets are in short supply on the market, and a green, cost-efficient rocket engine with a high payload determines its competitiveness,” said LandSpace CEO Zhang Changwu.

Statistics indicate an ongoing surge in development of satellite manufacturing and application, but the supply end still needs to be enhanced to meet market demand. Zhang attributed this to the large gap between the general rocket payload and the requirements of satellite launches.

Currently, most of every country’s in-service medium-sized launch vehicles are from previous generations. They face a series of problems such as pollution, high cost, long preparation, recyclability and low production. Private companies that can tackle technical and cost challenges are sure to finally win the game.

Wu Zhijian, chairman of the China Space Foundation, said that commercial rocket companies represented by LandSpace have lowered both access to and cost of launching. They promoted the commercialization of the space industry, he added.