Land it like SpaceX: China claims breakthrough in rocket vertical landing

CAS Space’s prototype vertical landing rocket prototype in the air.

By Baba Tamim,
Published by Interesting Engineering, 9 April 2023

China’s future rocket models will make use of the technology developed for recovering rockets, claims report.

China has successfully tested a rocket’s vertical landing in the ocean, laying the groundwork for upcoming space travel and recycling technology.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) confirmed that its commercial spaceflight firm, CAS Space, conducted the successful testing on Thursday in Haiyang, East China’s Shandong Province, according to the State-run media Global Times

“The 2.1-meter-long, 0.5-meter-diameter rocket prototype weighed 93 kilograms by launch, and was powered by twin engines, each with a thrust of 550 newtons,” Lian Jie, a senior engineer with the institute, told the Global Times.

“A turbojet engine was used during the test to simulate a variable thrust liquid rocket engine being used during vertical landing.”

China’s vertical landing rocket prototype in action.

CAS rocket prototype soared more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), dropped smoothly, slowed down thanks to the engine’s reverse thrust, and landed firmly with a precision of less than 10 meters at a speed of less than two meters per second.

The trial, which lasted about ten minutes, might eventually lead to the reuse of rocket stages, much like its American counterpart, SpaceX, does.

Land it like SpaceX

Chinese rocket landing technology differs from SpaceX’s claims Lian Jie, a senior engineer at CAS. “Ours is based on the domestic technology, both software, and hardware,” he said.

“We are exploring technology thresholds such as the variable thrust management, precision positioning, and the stabilizing technology on our own.”

The test validated communication and spacecraft tracking, as well as measuring technology under the influence of marine clutters. It also confirmed the recovery of the rocket stage at sea.

Recovering at sea may result in significant cost savings for launching because the landing pad may be in motion. Up to 40% of the rocket’s payload carrying capacity could be lost after landing, although this loss could be cut in half through water recovery.

Future rocket models, such as the Lijian-3 and Lijian-3 heavy lift launchers, will make use of the technology developed for recovering rockets at sea, aiding China’s future more affordable and extensive space exploration, claimed the Global Times report

The Chinese government opened up the market in 2014, allowing commercial rocket companies to operate, invent, and compete, and now the private space industry is attempting to catch up with its U.S. counterpart. 

The landing test is proof that China is speeding up its capabilities to match SpaceX. However, it’s uncertain when will China’s space rockets land vertically on Earth.

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