China tests controlled flight for returning first stage

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Chinese news sources today confirmed that during its last launch on July 26, they tested the use of grid fins (essentially copied from SpaceX’s Falcon 9) to control the return flight of the first stage of their Long March 2C rocket.

The success of the test is of great significance for improving China’s inland rocket landing safety, minimizing the inconvenience to the local people, as well as promoting the follow-up development of carrier rockets’ controllable recovery, soft landing and reuse, according to He Wei, an official with the CASC.

“The swinging grid fins were used to control the rocket debris’ direction and attitude, much like the wings of the debris,” said Cui Zhaoyun, the deputy chief designer of Long March-2C rocket. The landing site control of large and medium rockets is much more difficult than that of small rockets, he added.

For almost forty years China has allowed these first stages to crash, sometimes very close to villages and habitable areas. Now, inspired by what freedom and U.S. innovation has accomplished, they have finally begun the process of figuring out how to land these stages vertically. Since their propellants are very toxic, it is not clear however whether they will be able to reuse them should they succeed in landing them undamaged.


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  • Patrick

    Inconvenience of the local people = being targeted by multi-ton toxic rocket stages.

  • Patrick:

    Political ad 2020:

    Hollywood-style rocket stage smoking toward a town.

    VO: Vote Progressive. See what comes your way.

  • Scott M.

    My instinct tells me that this is more just to better control where the stages land, but maybe they are looking at reuse.

    If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Long March 2 first stage uses dinitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH). Both fuels were originally developed for ICBMs, so they’re pretty stable just sitting around in metal. But I do wonder how corrosive they are under combustion.

    I wonder if anyone’s ever done a teardown of an NDT/UDMH engine after getting a full-duration burn put through it.

  • wayne

    Scott M–
    You’ll want to watch this video–

    “Toxic Propellant Hazards”
    (1966) NASA KSC;
    featuring Hydrazine, Nitrogen Tetroxide, and UDMH

  • wayne

    Chinese communists have killed upwards of 80 million of their own people since 1949.

    >For that alone, they deserve to be annihilated with hydrogen-weapons and completely erased from the face of the Earth.

  • wayne

    –not necessarily, pretty stable just sitting around in metal….

    “What is rocket-fuel, anyway?”
    Scott Manley, April 2013

  • Col Beausabre

    People working around RFNA and UDMH have to wear moon suits. Sergei Korolev is supposed to have called the combination “The Devil’s Cocktail” and absolutely refused to have anything to do with hypergolics.

    “Devil’s venom was a nickname coined by Soviet rocket scientists for a liquid rocket fuel composed of a dangerous combination of nitric acid and hydrazine—specifically, hypergolic UDMH-nitric acid. Both propellants are extremely dangerous, nitric acid is highly corrosive, and the type used gives off nitrogen dioxide, while UDMH is toxic and carcinogenic, but is used in rocketry because this combination of fuel and oxidizer is hypergolic (it does not require an external ignition source), which makes rockets using these materials simpler. Further, both the fuel and oxidizer have high boiling points compared to other rocket fuels such as liquid hydrogen, and oxidizers such as liquid oxygen, allowing rockets to be stored ready for launch for long periods without the fuel or oxidizer boiling off and needing to be replenished. ”

    “The drawback of the storable propellants was that they were typically very toxic and dangerously corrosive. They had to be handled very carefully in special chemical protection gear. In the case of spills, accidents, or booster explosions, a dangerous cloud of toxic gas was created and the surrounding area contaminated”

    Propellants, fuels & oxidizers

  • Dick Eagleson

    Scott M.,

    SpaceX’s SuperDraco abort thrusters for the Crew Dragon 2 are large hypergolic-burning engines. They’ve been fired hundreds of times and meticulously gone over post-firing. The OMS engines on the Space Shuttle were also hypergolic-burners. Ditto the engines on the X-37B’s. Attitude control thrusters on all the aforementioned vehicles as well as the now-venerable Dragon 1 also burn hypergolics and have also been subject to examination upon return.

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