CASC vs SpaceX: Chinese Trap from Wires Showdown

The Chinese space industry is not only aiming to catch up with US company SpaceX, but also to showcase its own impressive innovations. The main space contractor in China, the Corporation of Scientific and Technical Research and Production of Aerospace Science and Technology (CASC), which is well-known for manufacturing the Long March missiles, is currently working on developing reusable missiles.

In a recent update from CASC, it was announced that the company is planning to retrieve reusable missiles using wire traps. The company has shared conceptual designs and procedures online. CASC aims to launch China’s first reusable state missile within the next two years, with plans for them to be a part of China’s mission to send astronauts to the moon by 2030.

Galactic Energy, on the other hand, could potentially launch the nation’s first private reusable missile, Pallas-1, as early as this year. However, much like SpaceX’s fully reusable “workhorse,” it is likely that it may not be retrieved on its initial flight.

While SpaceX has successfully implemented vertical landings of Falcon 9 boosters, CASC is exploring a different approach to recovering reusable boosters. CASC’s method involves reigniting the rocket’s engines on the first stage to slow down its descent, similar to the Falcon 9. Instead of maneuvering landing legs as it nears the landing site, CASC’s rockets will deploy hooks on the returning booster’s top, which will then be caught by wires on Earth.

CCTV State Media recently released a video showcasing the Long March 10 missile, demonstrating its takeoff and the return of its main stage using a network of wires on a sea platform. The footage reveals the adjustment of wires during the rocket’s landing.

It should be noted that CASC’s wire-based method is likely still in the conceptual stage, and its practicality has yet to be proven.

American and New Zealand missile company Rocket Lab recently experimented with an unconventional technique for recovering booster rockets. In May 2022, the company successfully captured a rocket booster mid-air using a helicopter, with the booster slowing down using a parachute.

Despite the initial success, the helicopter pilot was forced to drop the booster into the ocean due to unforeseen “load characteristics.” Rocket Lab ultimately deemed the operation too complex and decided not to pursue this method further.

However, unlike Rocket Lab’s approach, CASC’s technique involves retropulsion, a method that has already proven successful with SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Only time will tell if the Chinese state contractor can replicate this success.

/Reports, release notes, official announcements.