China Needs Reusable Rockets

Image (Credit): The July 24th launch of a Long March 5B rocket transporting China’s second module for its Tiangong space station. (CNS/AFP/Getty Images)

A few days ago debris from China’s Long March 5B rocket landed in the waters off the Philippine island of Palawan. The 1.8 million pounds of rocket brought a module to the Chinese space station. Such problems with Chinese rocket debris is a clear example that China needs to follow both SpaceX and Blue Origin and start using resusable rockets in the future.

NASA’s Administrator was not happy, tweeting:

The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth.

All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices, and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.

Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth.

China has plans to develop reusable rockets for future heavy-lift missions to its space station and the Moon. This would certainly reduce the risk to parties below and hopefully add some efficiencies to the launch process.

Of course, China is not alone when it comes to falling space debris. SpaceX appears to be responsible for debris that landed in Australia last month (see below). While confirmation is still needed, the material appears to be from a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Image (Credit): One of the panels of the debris found in Australia. (The Guardian/Brad Tucker)