China Looks to Recover Booster Stages

Long March launch
Long March launch

Last week, China Space News published a short article on efforts by engineers to recover rocket boosters for later reuse. Based on a Google Translate version of the original article, it sounds like they are pursuing an approach quite different from SpaceX’s propulsive landing system.

The article quotes an engineer has saying the recovery approach involves attaching paraglider-type “wings” to the booster that would allow it to glide to a soft landing. This technology has reached the “experimental verification stage.”

Future steps include powered flight tests. The article indicates that the development process is estimated to take about four years.

Here’s a link to the original article in Chinese.

  • Tonya

    Obviously light on details. A paraglider or any parachute is a solution to the final stage of return, but the boosters themselves would either have to stage very early or have some method to handle a high mach reentry.

  • Guy Rovella

    I can’t imagine a glider making a gentle enough landing that won’t damage the stage but even if they can just recover the engines it might be worth it. God luck to them the more players in the game, the better the competition.

  • savuporo

    I think chinese primary concern here is not getting the stage back intact, but basically a controlled spot of impact. They know they need to stop raining rocket debris on their villagers.

  • Hug Doug

    There have been a plethora of fly back or glide back boosters proposals over the years. there have been many different concepts, some more plausible than others. we’d have to see exactly what kind of “paraglider” system they have in mind before making too much commentary about it.

  • Tom Billings

    Inland launch sites *do* have to stop dropping stages, sometimes carrying the last 2% of Hydrazine or N2O4, on their own people. It is the soon-to-be-used Hainan launch site that might use this for getting stages back in refurbishable shape. Refurbishing can be costly, though, as the SRBs showed during Shuttle’s decades.

    If they have a means to get it back to a land site with low strain on the frame, *then* they have hope for full reusability. Doing that from the relatively horizontal attitude a paraglider would need seems to imply small engines to both control attitude during re-entry *and* to land in that horizontal attitude. Either that, or at the last second the rocket’s back end must be lowered from the paraglider in a *very* controlled drop, and the main engines, which must be as throttelable as the Merlin1D, at a minimum, would then be used.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    I wonder what prompted this action? Any guesses anyone?

  • duheagle

    The fact that the Chinese are looking seriously at reusability at all puts them way ahead of ULA, Arianespace and ILS. Even so, catching SpaceX is going to be quite a chore. But kudos to China for getting in the game; if you don’t play, you can’t win.

  • Kapitalist

    Just falling through the sky and then using rockets to control the landing seems much simpler than trying to perform some aero acrobatics with wings and strings.

  • therealdmt

    I guess they’d need landing gear too, or the rocket’s gonna be in a major mess after skidding across the steppes.

    I think Sierra Nevada has a spare set of gear they can use…

  • Robert Gishubl

    SpaceX tried parachutes and could not make it work then studied lots of options and concluded rocket return was the best method for rapid re-usability as wings etc added too much weight. However if the main objective is to do a semi controlled crash in a designated location so it does not fall on peoples houses it may be effective.

  • Guy Rovella

    Hadn’t though of that. I could see how that might effect your property value.

  • savuporo

    They need to evacuate people from the villages down range for every launch.

  • Roger

    I had said months ago, at NASA watch that I figured the Chinese would be the first to try to follow Spacex to reusable rockets. Seems they have always gotten more for there buck from their public space program. This is the first I heard of this. Has this gotten around Washington yet? This should scare them. Next we will hear they want to pay Boeing billions to develop reusable rockets to fight the China threat.

    Read all your comments on Disuss dehungle and followed you here.