China’s version of SpaceX has successfully launched and recovered a rocket in a critical step toward developing reusable spacecraft. iSpace’s Hyperbola-2 methane-liquid oxygen rocket went up about 600 feet and then descended under power to a soft landing on its four legs. The 60-foot rocket is a test stage only and is used for evaluating the various guidance and navigation systems and the variable thrust Focus-1 engine that make it possible. iSpace is more formally known as the Glory Space Technology Ltd. and was created as a commercial entity to emulate Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The Chinese government has set 2025 for the launch of a truly reusable rocket and has been using SpaceX and its Falcon 9 launch system as a model. iSpace called the test hop a “major breakthrough” that “signals the charge for China’s aerospace sector to catch up with the world’s most advanced levels in reusable launch vehicle technology.” SpaceX has been reusing Dragon rockets since 2015 and has logged more than 200 launches with boosters that had been previously launched.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I wonder how much of the technology was developed by China compared to given to them or taken by them from SpaceX? This technology should be protected and not leaked to enemy states.

  2. “China’s aerospace sector [is catching] up with the world’s most advanced levels in reusable launch vehicle technology.”

    If by “catching up” they mean emulating the techniques employed by other nations (and likely stealing some of that tech, too), then sure. But it will be interesting to see if they’re ever the first to develop a new technology that hasn’t already been developed elsewhere. And without using stolen information.

    They certainly are a leader when it comes to stealing tech, though.

  3. Like it or not, once a technological advance is deployed as a product it’s pretty much “out there” for others even if all the details are not available to directly copy. Even the mere fact that a concept is shown to be unquestionably viable is enough to supercharge any similar development effort.

  4. Remember how “Buran” looked almost exactly like the Space Shuttle? Even down to the color of tiles, it was stolen technology. It is what “commies” do, kill your smart people and steal from those countries that don’t.

  5. I am amazed by comments that make automatically the Chinese a warmongering “enemy” whose technological achievements are gained solely through theft from its avowed “enemy”… the US. China accomplished all of this by killing its own smart people and steal from its enemies” their technology? That’s what “commies”do? Seriously? How do you design and build a superior system using someone else’s stolen technology? Do what they do…get what they get. That implies a stalemate not superiority.

    General Dynamics learns from Boeing a better aviation mousetrap… that is called competition. Supposedly, we pride ourselves on superior products through competition. But if China does the same it’s what “commies” do. China is the leader in many areas through brilliant engineering combined with capable manufacturing. That’s a result of great schooling, investment in both technology and manufacturing by using its unique culture that takes a long term view of problem solving. Aerodynamics and physics defines the optimal shape. So, it stands to reason airplane, rockets, even engine technology will evolve into similar silhouettes or overall look because technical minds with leading edge aerospace technology have realized the optimum shape for desired performance.

    Messerschmidt, Folke-Wulf, Arado, Junkers, Whittle, Bell, etc were developing jet aircraft and engines from the middle thirties onward. The US benefited from that technology gained to the Victor goes the spoils. Apparently it is morally okay to “steal” technology from competitors as the conquering nation but if a successful aerospace endeavor comes from China… it is simply a poor “commie” copy based on someone “stolen”engineering. Funny that SpaceX scattered many prototypes to get to the success of the Falcon series and China had success on their first launch. That kind of achievement does not come from killing their smart and copying from countries that don’t.

    How about we learn some diplomacy both in business and politics, learning from cooperation rather than from threatening anyone who would dare to attempt to do better what we or others might have already accomplished?

    I have a saying attributed to Mark Twain hanging in my living room. I read it every day. ”Loyal to country? Always! Loyal to government? Only when it deserves it.”

    China has had many aviation/aerospace accomplishments. They are not looking to expand their borders. They want to do business with the all countries including the US. Good business only happens with cooperation, diplomacy, and common sense negotiation. That is impossible if a country takes on the posture of “empire” building through sanction and intimidation making everyone an “enemy” under the banner of “National security”. China has some success in a reusable rocket. Good for them. Maybe, just maybe, we could learn something from their success.

  6. I understand the requirements of clickbait, but for the video’s author to portray this prototype as a “SpaceX Killer” is moronic. How many national security payloads do you suppose the US will be launching on Chinese rockets? How many sensitive technological payloads do you think Western countries in general will be launching on Chinese rockets?

    SpaceX proved that this type of reusability is possible, so naturally others will seek to copy them. At some point, there may be other Western companies that have a proven reusable booster that can compete with SpaceX for launch business. But I don’t see the majority of the world’s launch customers opting for a Chinese vehicle anytime soon.