back to article China succeeds where Elon Musk has failed with first methalox rocket

China's private space industry took a giant leap past Musk, Bezos and everyone else today with the first successful orbital launch of a methane-powered rocket. LandSpace Technology Corp's ZQ-2 was launched early Wednesday morning, Beijing time, according to Chinese state-run news agency CCTV, and "was a complete success," per …

  1. IGotOut Silver badge

    They must of stole the tech off....

    ...error, errmm.

    The West....yes that'll do.

  2. all ears

    Clickbait journalism

    Not to put down China, or overly praise Musk, but he hasn't exactly "failed." He's pursuing a much more complex vehicle, is in the midst of testing and development, and may well revolutionize space travel. Anyway, it's not a zero sum game. If it were a race to get to orbit first using methalox, I'm sure Musk could have built a much simpler rocket and launched it quite a while ago.

    Why must media turn everything into some sort of race or contest?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Clickbait journalism

      I'm pretty sure the so-called "super powers" (China, the US, Musk and BEZOS) are the ones engaged in the race. The journalists are just reporting on it.

    2. t245t
      Big Brother

      Re: Clickbait journalism

      @all ears: "Not to put down China, or overly praise Musk .."

      The MSM really turned on Musk once he bought Twitter and took away their dummy (pacifier) and after Musk revealed just how deep the deep state was into controlling the message (The Twitter Files).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clickbait journalism

        nah, everyone else but me now seems to have realised he was always a twat.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clickbait journalism

        I am waiting for the Twitter Files 2 to learn how much EM is suppressing freedom of speech.

        Not that I expect to wait for long, since there is nobody in charge of security left in the company...

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Clickbait journalism

          "I am waiting for the Twitter Files 2 to learn how much EM is suppressing freedom of speech."

          I don't know about you, but in my case Señor Musk is completely incapable of suppressing my speech.

          Remember, my computers, my rules. I am dictator for life here, and there is absolutely nothing Musk or anyone else can do about it.

          Pace state secrets, kitty pR0n and other illegal material.

    3. Groo The Wanderer

      Re: Clickbait journalism

      Musk's issue is his ego won't allow him to just "succeed" - it has to be a GRAND success to quell any doubt He Is The Best. Of course we've seen what kind of face-palms that ego ends up producing. :)

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: Clickbait journalism

        No, **the press's** ego won't allow him (or Bezos) to succeed. A test vehicle fails at some point and "it exploded", a test engine fails "it exploded", a vehicle fails on an overpressure test "it exploded", a completely different vehicle gets to space using *the very same fuel* and Elon has been beaten ...

        To be honest, Musky and Bezos could drive cars side by side on a 1/4 mile strip and would still be accused of losing the competition to Ru Paul ...

        1. _Elvi_

          Ru Paul VS Bezos VS Musk-toid

          .. I'd pay a dollar to see that ...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Clickbait journalism

          And Twitter "exploded" under its new management

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Clickbait journalism

      The concept of it being 'a race' is based on what SHOULD be natural for humans: COMPETITION!

      In this case I think methalox LOST as an ideal fuel. Musk understood this and abandoned it.

    5. captain_ken

      Re: Clickbait journalism

      It’s what the register has sadly become, once upon a time it was good journalism with some clever humour thrown in. Now it’s mostly trash that comes across as hate and jealousy.

  3. jake Silver badge

    There is success, and then there is "success".

    Did it launch a useful payload?

    CAN it launch a useful payload?

    1. PhilipN Silver badge

      Re: There is success, and then there is "success".

      Success is a rocket under test not blowing up. Which just happened in Japan. And nobody noticed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There is success, and then there is "success".

        Destructive tests are a thing.

  4. Petalium

    Size matters

    Whip it out boys, XJP, Musky and Zuck in a three way competition!

    1. Gary Stewart

      Re: Size matters

      I'm afraid Jeff got his pee-pee whacked real hard a couple of days ago when a BE4 went BOOM 10 seconds after ignition during an acceptance test. This was not a test engine, it was a production engine that was going to be used if it passed. So poor old Jeff will have to keep it in a bit longer (no pun intended). ULA was overheard muttering "an engine, an engine, my Centaur needs an engine". I thought I saw this here earlier but I could not find it with a quick search. It has been reported on a couple of other sites like slash dot and

  5. Mark Exclamation

    "China's private space industry....." There is no such thing as China's private ANYTHING industry! It's all ultimately government owned.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      We have a much better system where UnitedLaunchAlliance own the government, rather than the other way round

  6. IvyKing

    Interesting but not earth shattering

    LH2 is a much trickier fuel to handle than LNG and LH2 has been in use since the early Centaur and Saturn I days (RL10 engines were in production 1961-62). Main advantage of Methalox is that it much cheaper than LH2, and the increased density has advantages for first stage use.

    Environmental impacts should be less than RP1-LOX, much less than UDMH-IRFNA and not even in the same ballpark as AP-Al. Heck, ClF3 was being considered as an oxidizer, but had the problem in being hypergolic with just about everything.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

      A useful readable guide:

      Not as exciting a read as "Ignition!" though.

    2. Xalran

      Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

      ClF3 ?

      What were they thinking of ?

      F is one of the most dangerous element around in chemistry.

      ( except in the form of CaF2 crystals, where it's nice , shiny ( especially when oiled the Chinese way ) and can cost an arm and a leg when being a perfect large octaedron of deep pink on quartz crystals coming out of the Mont Blanc massif )

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

        Only slightly less fun than fluorine, is it's sibling chlorine, so you can start to imagine the fun when you somehow bond them into one molecule of ClF3. What they were thinking, is that chlorine trifloride is a stronger oxidiser than oxygen!

        Of course any mention of CLF3 is a good excuse to roll out the quote from John Clark's Ignition!:

        ”[Chlorine trifluoride] is, of course, extremely toxic, but that's the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals-steel, copper, aluminium, etc.-because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.”

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

          The story that follows (go and buy the book people) is also very well told.

          1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

            Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

            The book is long out of print and copies command serious prices. However, there is a PDF of it here:


            1. PerlyKing

              Re: Ignition out of print

              It's not out of print at the moment. Probably available elsewhere too.

              I do wonder whether the Audible version has sound effects :-)

              1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

                Re: Ignition out of print

                Seems that has changed since I looked a few years back: "This newly reissued debut book in the Rutgers University Press Classics imprint..."

        2. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

          ClF3 + Asbestos makes an interesting mix, and running shoes may not help much...

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

        "F is one of the most dangerous element around in chemistry."

        in most of its forms, yes. In some cases, like flouride toothpaste, extremely useful and life enhancing.

        In the wafer fab world, an HF exposure (even just a light splash) is one of the WORST kinds of industrial accidents. And you need HF to etch silicon.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      The Register's link to a link is more about solid rocket propellants

      This article linked to a previous Register article that linked to a study for total emissions of all space flights. At the time, yearly emissions from all rockets was equivalent to 650 Australians (because it was a New Zealand study). The study referenced aluminium and chlorine compounds that are completely irrelevant to Starship. In theory they would be a concern for SLS solid rocket boosters but SLS will launch at most once every two years. There are a large number of small rockets that use solid propellants but they are small with a limited number of launches because for the vast majority of payloads it is cheaper to ride share on a Falcon 9.

      There was a bit that is relevant to Starship. Methalox rocket exhaust has not been studied at high altitude. The Programmatic Environmental Assessment went into great detail on Raptor exhaust at sea level: mostly steam and CO2, a small amount of unburned propellants and some partially burned intermediates. The most obvious thing for those intermediates and unburned propellant to do is burn to completion further along the big flame shooting out the back of the rocket. According to Musk's dreams, Starships will be flying point to point across the Earth at a scale to compete with first class long distance air travel. Perhaps one day it will be worth comparing Starship to a small fraction of the airline industry.

      With that in mind, the Register may have to come up with a new unit of FUD on a similar scale to a micro Ballmer. If rocket pollution is an issue that concerns anyone, try a very accessible site that gives a clear idea of the relative numbers involved.

      Currently a bunch of "environmental" lawsuits are seeking funding. This involves organisations with a wildlife based name paying a minimal amount for a lawyer to take the FAA to court. The lawyer does the bare minimum to avoid sanction from the courts or the Bar association. The court case fails promptly for noddy level errors: wrong venue, plaintiff lacks standing, plaintiff names wrong defendant, plaintiff has not exhausted non-litigation base options, plaintiff fails to identify anything the defended has done wrong, plaintiff has not asked a remedy the court can impose... The case gets thrown out promptly but in the mean time, there is news, publicity and fund raising. Later there are allegations of conspiracy and corruption leading more publicity and fund raising. If that was not bad enough, publicity litigation draws funding away for charities that are doing something constructive for the environment.

    4. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

      ClF3 was being considered as an oxidizer, but had the problem in being hypergolic with just about everything.

      It's used in the semiconductor industry to clean CVD chambers. I would not want a job anywhere near that.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Interesting but not earth shattering

      "Environmental impacts should be less than RP1-LOX"

      Why would THAT be? Carbon content? I hope you do not actually BELIEVE in carbon-dioxide-based "Climate Change"... So much evidence against it. Tony Heller is a good starting point.

      (Most of the Earth's carbon is in the MANTLE, and it regularly gets spewed by volcanoes, in amounts WAY higher than human activity - I doubt a few RP1 rockets will even matter)

  7. kernel_panic

    Not apples to apples

    While I truly enjoy watching competition unfold in this exciting field, these two use cases are not comparable. The whole idea of methalox is that it can be refined in other planets e.g. Mars so unless the Chinese rocket is meant to go there, there's a questionable debate on any advantages against LOX and other fuels just to get to orbit (and back?) Re payload, a trip to Mars takes forever.. so the math seems to favour larger size vs multiple smaller rockets in order to take vast payloads to it. Even if you were to send multiple rockets they'd all have to fly roughly at the same time to take advantage of the window of opportunity provided by the orbits, then add landing risks in Mars multiplied by various units vs just one etc.. list is endless.

    Long story short, SpaceX's Starship and this one are not meant for the same role

    1. druck Silver badge

      Re: Not apples to apples

      The whole idea of methalox is not off world production, it's primarily the reduction of cost compared to RP-1 right here on earth.

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Not apples to apples

        And as methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, burning CH4 to CO2 is practically green!

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Not apples to apples

          And if musk can attach pipes to all those oil rigs in the Gulf and take all that "waste" methane they commonly flare off, it's even greener and he gets "free" fuel :-)

  8. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge


    This is a minor battle in the larger war that will be forgotten as soon as Starship makes a successful flight.

    As an aside: all these "commercial" Chinese space companies are just for show. All the money they receive comes from Chinese State controlled banks and VC's.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Battle

      > As an aside: all these "commercial" Chinese space companies are just for show. All the money they receive comes from Chinese State controlled banks and VC's military.


      1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

        Re: Battle

        The same means of funding than SpaceX, then?

  9. iron Silver badge

    BE-4 is not a methalox rocket

    > Bezos' Blue Origin blew up one of its BE-4 methane/LOX rockets late last month, CNBC reported yesterday.

    BE-4 is an ENGINE not a rocket.

    > The explosion reportedly destroyed the engine and damaged test mount infrastructure, but caused no injuries.

    Yes because it was an ENGINE test not a rocket test.

    > The rocket was due to complete its testing in July before being delivered to the United Launch Alliance for use on its Vulcan craft

    BE-4 is an ENGINE that will be fitted to the Vulcan rocket. It would make no sense to fit a rocket to another rocket, especially since without BE-4 Vulcan is a rocket with no engines!

    It would be nice if El Reg's "journalists" could at least tell the difference between a rocket and an engine. Next you'll be calling a keyboard a computer.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: BE-4 is not a methalox rocket

      For that matter, is a rocket without en engine a rocket? Or does that big tube only become a rocket when a rocket engine is fitted?

  10. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    the purported launch,

    Purported? That would be a case or maybe it did, maybe it didn't if you don't trust the source while waiting for independent verification. But wait, how does that sentence continue? Ah yes, there it is, right in the same sentence, which was verified independently by telemetry. I guess that means it's no longer a "purported" launch, what with that trusted verification and all and is now an actual launch. </snark>

    Now, I suppose, theoretically, the word "purported" could relate to how the rocket was fuelled, since the US military telemetry reading probably can't identify the fuel composition with any degree of certainty, but the if that is what the author intended, he didn't do a good job of making that clear.

    Sorry, not sorry, but I'm seeing more and more of this weird wordiness making statements self-contradicting these days. I didn't expect to see it in El Reg.

  11. HammerOn1024

    Insipent and Arrogent

    "...where Elon Musk has failed."

    Wow.. how arrogant of you. He has not failed as he does have running engines and WERE used on the April test of Starship. So, SpaceX WAS first! No, they didn't make orbit, that wasn't the intent of the flight. It was a FIRST attempt with a system 3 times the size of a Saturn V!

    Back under your bridge troll.

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