In a landmark moment for China’s space exploration, Beijing iSpace Technology Co., Ltd., a leading space launch company, successfully executed the second flight test mission of its SQX-2Y reusable liquid oxygen-methane verification rocket on December 10, 2023, at 17:07. The mission, staged at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, saw the test flight ascend to a height of 343.12 meters.
During its flight, which lasted a total of 63.15 seconds, the rocket achieved a target lateral displacement of 50 meters and demonstrated remarkable precision with a landing position accuracy of approximately 0.295 meters. The SQX-2Y rocket, showcasing a landing speed of 1.1m/s, a landing attitude angle of approximately 1.18 degrees, and a roll angle of approximately 4.4 degrees, touched down smoothly and was safely restored, marking another significant achievement in China’s space endeavors.
The rocket first successfully completed a vertical takeoff and landing test on November 2, 2023. Within just twenty days, iSpace managed to carry out a second test. This second flight provides more data from various systems, which is crucial for making reusable launch vehicles fly more often and more efficiently. This data is also important for the company as they continue to develop a larger reusable launch vehicle, the Hyperbola-3. Despite the complexity of these operations, the company is committed to pushing the boundaries of space exploration.
The successful second flight test mission of Hyperbola-2 marks a milestone as China’s first reusable rocket flight. This mission demonstrated several key capabilities. Firstly, it showed that the rocket, which is the first of its kind in China to use liquid oxygen-methane fuel, can be rapidly reused after a vertical takeoff and landing. Secondly, it confirmed the dependability of the rocket’s technology for returning and landing at low altitudes. The mission also highlighted the streamlined process and standards for inspecting the reusable rocket, underscoring its reliability and adaptability for repeated flights under various conditions. Furthermore, it showed the feasibility of maintaining the rocket with minimal effort, allowing for frequent flights within a short period. Lastly, it demonstrated the effectiveness of the system for handling the rocket recovery area.
The Focus-1 reusable rocket engine, codenamed JD-1, has proven its ability to quickly reuse flights, highlighting the cost-effective and easy-to-maintain advantages of its liquid oxygen methane propellant. In a pioneering flight, iSpace cracked several complex challenges in the “last mile” of vertical recovery, filling a domestic gap in this field.
The SQX-2Y rocket, designed for reusable launches, introduced a groundbreaking adaptive control technology. This tech avoids potential losses from offline planned trajectories, boosting the rocket’s economic efficiency, a fact proven in two flight tests.
iSpace also debuted an intelligent health monitoring system for reusable rockets. This system swiftly diagnoses the health status of each component, solving measurement issues and improving the efficiency of reuse inspection. This technological advancement sets a solid foundation for the rapid reuse of rockets.
As a reusable rocket, the SQX-2Y, is designed to adapt to various launch requirements, with each mission’s flight height and landing points differing. Its innovative control algorithm and software structure allow for easy adjustment of trajectory parameters, ensuring the system’s reliability.
The launch site, a first of its kind streamlined system, doesn’t rely on large fixed facilities. It can be flexibly assembled and relocated and is equipped with unattended pre-launch capabilities. The site’s quick repair and maintenance capabilities, with a cycle of under 10 days, lay a solid foundation for rapid rocket reuse and flight-like launches.
The onboard single machine, developed independently by iSpace, has proven instrumental in the success of the two missions. This component, functioning as the liquid rocket engine’s control centre, is distinguished by its cross-redundant reconfigurable design, which significantly enhances critical functions such as engine control, fault diagnosis, and intelligent maintenance. The onboard computer, serving as the rocket’s central processing unit, employs a sophisticated multi-mode redundant design that substantially bolsters system reliability. This innovative design approach lays the groundwork for future reductions in launch service costs and increased payload capacity.