China is building a floating spaceport from which it can launch rockets from the Pacific Ocean.
The “Eastern Aerospace Port” off the coast of Haiyang city in the province of Shandong will also be used the building and maintenance of small rockets.
It’s being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC), the nation’s biggest defense contractor, Universe Today reports.
“In the near future, launch facilities located at sea are expected to be a lot more common,” the news site said.
As well as light vehicles, the Eastern Aerospace Port (EAP) will handle the launch of small rockets, satellites and other space technologies.
Wang Xiaojun, head of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), under CASC, last week said “substantial progress” was being made in the port’s construction.
It’s not clear when Beijing hopes to make its first launch from the EAP. Once completed, the port will be China’s fifth rocket launch site.
Launches from sea are the next step in space technology.
They offer advantages such as the ability to position liftoffs closer the equator, requiring less fuel to reach orbit and therefore dampening costs.
US rocket firm SpaceX has said it hopes to launch its upcoming Starship spacecraft from floating pads to avoid noise complaints.
China completed its first sea launch last year, sending five commercial satellites and two others containing experimental technology into space.
A Long March 11 rocket lifted off from a mobile platform in the Yellow Sea on June 5, 2019.
A second launch from the same platform – a modified commercial vessel – will take place later this year, according to SpaceNews.
China currently has inland launch sites at Xichang in the southwest, Jiuquan (northwest), Taiyuan (north) and a coastal site at Wenchang on the southern island of Hainan.
Among other problems, launches from deep inland can sometimes lead to fiery debris raining down on residents below.
Last week, a Chinese rocket booster exploded after landing on a town in the country’s Shaanxi province.
Footage of the incident posted to social media app Weibo showed the booster plummeting to Earth following a satellite launch on September 7.
The spent rocket part erupted in a ball of orange smoke after crashing back to Earth, apparently narrowly missing a school.
It’s not clear if anyone was hurt during the incident, which occurred following the launch of a Long March 4B rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.