China's SpaceX wannabe recycles a rocket after just 38 days

Interstellar Glory Space Technology gets a boost – even though it's yet to reach orbit

Chinese private space biz i-Space (not to be confused with Japanese aerospace concern iSpace) has recycled a rocket just 38 days after its previous flight.

i-Space, aka Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Co., is a private outfit that aspires to operate reusable rockets. The biz is often compared to Elon Musk's SpaceX, as its boosters make a vertical landing after doing the heavy lifting.

It is rather behind SpaceX – it's yet to reach orbit or carry a payload – but it's making progress. On November 2 i-Space launched its SQX-2Y test rocket, which uses a liquid oxygen/methane combo for fuel. That flight saw the rocket climb to over 170 meters before coming in for a safe landing.

The craft was easily recovered and refurbished in just twenty days. And then, on December 10, it launched again.

An i-Space post to Chinese social media site qq.com states that the rocket reached an altitude of 343.12 meters in a flight lasting 63.15 seconds, before touching down at a speed of 1.1 meters per second. The launch startup believes the test shows it can achieve ten-day rocket refurbishments after launches. SpaceX's record for re-use of a booster is 21 days.

That effort was rated a "complete success" by the business. And not just of the hardware – this flight for the first time used i-Space's homebrew monitoring software. i-Space claims its code controls multiple systems instead of relying on discrete data feeds for different onboard devices. It also allows in-flight adjustments of flight objectives.

i-Space's SQX-2Y test rocket

i-Space's SQX-2Y test rocket – Click to enlarge

While the flight was a success, the SQX-2Y is not intended to reach orbit. That job goes to its successor, the forthcoming Hyperbola-3 that is intended to have payload capacity of over 8,500kg to low Earth orbit while reusing its booster – about a third of the mass SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 can hoist.

i-Space hopes to launch the first model 3 in 2025 and build to tens of launches a year by 2030. At which point China will have a friendly and capable launch partner with considerable capacity.

China works hard to help its private sector's successes get access to export markets, so once i-Space is up and running it will likely help the Middle Kingdom's friends to access space. Maybe it will also help Beijing to defend its orbital interests – which it currently protects with efforts including anti-satellite weapons. ®

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