Chinese startup LandSpace launches Zhuque-1 rocket, fails to deliver payload to orbit
LandSpace has made an attempt to become the first Chinese private company to send a payload into space. On Saturday, October 27, the startup’s Zhuque-1 rocket took to the skies with the Weilai-1 small satellite but failed to deliver it into its intended orbit.
Zhuque-1 (what means “Vermilion Bird” in Chinese) lifted off at 4:00 p.m. local time (8:00 GMT / 4:00 a.m. EDT) from a mobile platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China’s Gansu Province.
The flight went as expected until the rocket’s third stage assumed control over the mission. The separation of the first and second stage, as well as payload fairing, was carried out successfully. There are reports that the failure of attitude control on the third stage resulted in the loss of the spacecraft as it was unable to reach the planned Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).
As of this writing, LandSpace is not offering any detailed information about the failure. The company only laconically said on its social media account that “cowling separation was normal but something abnormal happened.”
Very little information was released by Chinese media outlets about the launch and pre-launch preparations. LandSpace initially planned to conduct the mission on October 14 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site located on the island of Hainan. However predictions of bad weather for mid-October for the southern regions of China, forced the company to change the location and date of the launch.
Zhuque-1, or ZQ-1 for short (also known as LandSpace-1) is a three-stage solid-propellant light-lift rocket. Weighing some 27 metric tons, the launcher is 62.3 ft. (19 meters) tall and 4.43 ft. (1.35 meters) in diameter. It is capable of lifting up to 660 lbs. (300 kilograms) into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and up to 440 lbs. (200 kilograms) to SSO.
LandSpace is also developing the liquid oxygen/methane-fueled Zhuque-1 (ZQ-2) – a medium-lift launch vehicle, about 160 ft. (48.8 meters) tall and 11 ft. (3.35 meters) in diameter. The rocket is designed to be able to carry up to 4.0 metric tons to LEO and 2.0 metric tons to SSO.
The lost payload of Saturday’s launch was a small satellite designed for science experiments and remote sensing, known as Weilai-1 (Future-1). The spacecraft weighs around 88 lbs. (40 kilograms) and has dimensions of 1.26 x 1.16 x 0.98 inch (3.2 x 2.95 x 2.48). Weilai-1 is based on MinoSpace Technology’s MN10 platform and was planned to be operated by China Central Television (CCTV).
The Beijing-based LandSpace was founded by Tsinghua University in 2015. It is one of several private Chinese space companies created after the government decided to open the space sector to private capital in late 2014.
The launch of Zhuque-1 marked the 30th orbital mission for China and the first unsuccessful in 2018. The next Chinese launch is expected to take place on October 29, when a Long March 2C is scheduled to deliver the CFOSAT Earth-observing satellite for the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and French space agency CNES.
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