Chinese aerospace firm, iSpace, has reportedly tested their first full-scale reusable rocket in what is a landmark moment for the country’s space programme.
The Beijing-based company successfully conducted “hop tests” with its Hyperbola-2Y rocket in the Gobi Desert, paving the way for further experimentation on the firm’s larger Hyperbola-3 rocket systems as soon as 2025, according to state media outlets.
iSpace becomes China’s first aerospace firm to test a reusable rocket, joining Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Blue Origin, who have also developed the technology.
iSpace said the hop test, or vertical take-off/vertical landing (VTVL) test at the Jiuquan satellite launch centre lasted just 51 seconds, but it was enough time for the research team to gather the necessary data to progress to the next phase of advanced trials.
The first stage of the Hyperbola-2 propelled the rocket to an altitude of 178.4 metres before it made a well-controlled descent, landing just 1.7 metres from its take-off position.
The short flight was enough to verify the iSpace’s aim to develop a recoverable first stage, thrust systems, landing guidance and navigation, among other related technologies, according to iSpace.
iSpace’s Hyperbola-2 is a two-stage, liquid methane and liquid oxygen-fuelled rocket with a total length of 28 metres. It is capable of carrying a payload of approximately 1.9 tonnes into a low-earth orbit.
iSpace will now scrap production of the Hyperbola-2 rocket class and is using the design to test the feasibility of the larger, Hyperbola-3 rocket instead, as per a statement made at the Ninth China Commercial Aerospace Forum in July.
Tipping the scales at 13.4 metric tonnes and measuring 69 metres in length, Hyperbola-3 is the most powerful rocket developed by iSpace to date.
Similar to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the Hyperbola-3B variation of the rocket features a centre core flanked by two side boosters and is capable of depositing a payload of roughly 8.5 tonnes into a low-earth orbit.
Although a relatively young company, founded in 2016, iSpace has a history of national aerospace firsts. In 2019, it became China’s first privately owned firm to reach orbit with its Hyperbola-1 solid-fuel rocket.
It now joins SpaceX, Galactic Energy, Deep Blue Aerospace and fellow Chinese rocketeers, CAS, as the only companies working with reusable rockets.
China’s National Space Administration says while its primary rocket, the Long March, remains the workhorse of the national aerospace sector, reusable rockets are very desirable as they are considered significantly more cost-effective.