China has taken a giant leap towards developing sustainable space travel technology by successfully testing a rocket’s vertical landing in the ocean. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has confirmed that CAS Space, its commercial spaceflight firm, carried out the testing in Haiyang, East China’s Shandong Province. The trial, which lasted about ten minutes, is a significant step towards the reuse of rocket stages. It is also a clear indication of China’s ambition to become a leading player in space exploration.
The rocket prototype, which was 2.1 meters long and 0.5 meters in diameter, weighed 93 kilograms at launch and was powered by twin engines, each with a thrust of 550 newtons. The prototype soared over 1,000 meters and landed with a precision of less than 10 meters and a speed of less than two meters per second. The rocket dropped smoothly and slowed down thanks to the engine’s reverse thrust, which confirmed the successful completion of the test.
According to Lian Jie, a senior engineer with the institute, a turbojet engine was used during the test to simulate a variable thrust liquid rocket engine being used during vertical landing. He also noted that Chinese rocket landing technology differs from SpaceX’s, claiming that the Chinese technology is based on domestic software and hardware. “We are exploring technology thresholds such as the variable thrust management, precision positioning, and the stabilizing technology on our own,” he said.
The successful test has validated communication and spacecraft tracking, as well as measuring technology under the influence of marine clutters. It has also confirmed the recovery of the rocket stage at sea.
Recovering rockets at sea is a game-changer in terms of reducing the cost of launching, as it eliminates the need for a stationary landing pad. It is estimated that up to 40% of the rocket’s payload carrying capacity can be lost after landing, but this loss could be halved by water recovery.
China’s ambitious plans for space exploration have received a major boost with the development of this technology. According to a report by Global Times, future rocket models like the Lijian-3 and Lijian-3 heavy lift launchers will incorporate sea recovery technology, making space exploration more affordable and extensive. The opening up of the commercial rocket market in 2014 has allowed Chinese companies to compete with their American counterparts.
The successful landing test is evidence of China’s commitment to catch up with SpaceX in the race for space exploration. However, there is still some uncertainty surrounding when China’s space rockets will be able to land vertically on Earth. Nevertheless, the successful testing of this technology is a clear indication of China’s determination to become a leader in space exploration and an inspiration to the private space industry.