Rockets of Today

NEW LINE (新干线, Xīn Gàn Xiàn) — China

China is full of companies large and small, old and new, which are developing small orbital rockets based on the solid fuel technology that China has long used for ballistic missiles. But one company stands out from the pack: LinkSpace (or 翎客航天, “Líng-kè Aerospace”). They are building a small liquid-fueled booster which will land vertically for reuse. It very openly draws inspiration from the Falcon 9. Like the Falcon, it will burn kerosene. Like the Falcon, it will have four triangular landing legs folded against its sides, and four grid fins at the top. But it won’t have nine engines on the bottom, like the Falcon or the Electron — only four. This may mean that the upper stage has more spare thrust than the Falcon has (with full tanks, the Falcon upper stage can’t even pull one G).

They have not given out much detail on the engine, such as what its power cycle is or how it will be constructed. Perhaps they aren’t all that far along with it yet. But they do have something flying: they’ve released video of a skeletal single-engine “hopper” rig lifting off from a metal pad, hovering, moving itself sideways, and landing in the middle of a different metal pad. More recently they’ve done a 40 meter hop with a more rocketlike test vehicle, then a 300 meter hop, with plans to try a 1 kilometer hop. But these hoppers do not use the kerosene engine yet; they’re powering these short flights with ethanol.

They say they’re even going to pursue trying to reuse the upper stage — an idea that SpaceX has dropped for the Falcon. This would probably wait for a later rocket with more spare payload capacity.

New Line 1: Mass 33 t, diam 1.8 m, thrust 0.4 MN, imp unknown, type unknown (kerosene), payload >0.2 t (0.6%) in expendable mode, cost <$22.5M/t.