It's a far more sensible approach.
Chute from the Stars
China's space program has a bit of a debris problem: the expendable boosters of its multistage rockets tend to come haphazardly falling back to Earth after being shed off.
That has repeatedly incurred the concern and scorn of its Western counterparts who fear that, God forbid, the stuff might land on innocent bystanders, with NASA administrator Bill Nelson warning last winter that China is "is taking unnecessary risks" with the uncontrolled reentry of its rocket stages.
But now, China may finally have found a permanent solution. As spotted by Space.com, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the space program's main contractor, is nearing completion of a parachute system that will guide its discarded boosters safely — and accurately — down to Earth.
Such a system could help the country's space program catch up with the likes of SpaceX, which has long established a way to safely return its reusable boosters with the use of retro thrusters.
CASC's system is designed so that the side boosters used on several versions of its Long March rockets — China's most depended-on rocket family — can be recovered, reused, or salvaged.
"In the booster's process of falling, we open the parachute and use its gliding control performance to reduce the original landing area of [19 to 56 miles] to a relatively smaller area, so that the booster will drop on a designated place," Teng Haishan, deputy chief engineer at the 508th Research Institute of the China Academy of Space Technology, told state-run broadcaster CCTV.
"We also make the landing area into a landing bed by adding cushioning, making it soft as a mattress," Teng added. "As a result, the booster will be completely recyclable without any damage."
In the absence of a parachute, anything discarded from a rocket would burn up in the atmosphere, and if that doesn't incinerate it into ash, crash into the ocean at terminal velocity.
In addition to minimizing the risk of collateral damage, Teng estimates that by using the recovery system, the space program can save about 1.7 billion yuan annually, or $249 million USD.
In the future, the corporation also wants to make its rocket components even more reusable by deploying a system that can recover its payload fairings as well —a far more sensible approach than having them crash uncontrollably back down to Earth.
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