Offshore launchers are expected to become much more common in the near future. China, the newest member of the space superpowers club, is currently building a floating spaceport to launch its rockets off the coast of the city of Haiyang, in the eastern province of Shandong.
The new facility, called “Eastern Aerospace Port,” is being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the nation’s largest defense contractor. The new maritime platform will be the fifth space destined for launching space missions in China.
When fully operational, the platform will be used to launch light vehicles, as well as to build and maintain rockets, satellites, and related space applications, Universe Today reports. The floating spaceport will give the country’s space program a new degree of flexibility. The addition of a marine platform will also help to mitigate risk in populated areas.
Currently, all other launch facilities in China are located inland, in Jiuquan (northwest), Taiyuan (north), and Xichang (southwest), and on the coast of Wenchang (south) on the island of Hainan. Launches from these locations generally result in a more complicated return of space vehicles to Earth, requiring extensive safety and cleaning operations.
Taking place far from populated regions, rocket launches on offshore platforms offer several advantages, providing greater safety, especially in the case of parts that fall after takeoff. During takeoffs from land-based bases, rocket stages can fall close to inhabited areas, posing risks to the population.
The addition of a floating aerospace port is also in line with the expansion of launch services that China has seen in recent years. The country’s first-ever launch from sea took place in June 2019. The rocket, called Long March 11, just over 20 meters in length, took off from a floating launch platform in the Yellow Sea, between China and the Korean peninsula. At that time, the rocket carried weather monitoring satellites to space.
Now, the second Long March 11 sea launch is expected before the end of 2020 from the same platform.
SpaceX is also interested in building floating ports to launch its Starship rockets. The American company has even announced job vacancies for engineers specialized in this type of enterprise. The goal is to use the platforms for the Super Heavy rockets, the same ones that will take the Starship on future missions to the Moon and Mars.