See China's Cool New Rocket Fins in Action!

They may look like waffle-makers, but China's new rocket fins are cooking up something even more special: the ability to guide rockets to a safe zone after launch.

The country's latest launch of a Long March 2C rocket, from Xichang, China, on July 26 local time (July 25 EDT), included grid fins designed to do a better job of protecting populated areas away from the launch site. The fins appear similar to those that SpaceX rockets use to steer themselves down for landing and later reuse, although the Chinese fins aren't intended to make the rocket reusable.

A new video released by China Central Television (CCTV) shows the fins deploying hundreds of miles above Earth, with our planet gently spinning in the background as the rocket flies.

Related: Watch China Land on the Moon's Far Side in This Awesome Video!

Footage from China Central Television shows grid fins on a Long March 2C rocket that launched in July 2019. (Image credit: CCTV)

The rocket didn't land upright, if the footage is any indication, but it did touch down about where designers said they expected it to, according to a statement from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the prime contractor for the country's space work.

"The distance of the landing site from the theoretical site is within five kilometers [3.1 miles]; to be more specific, it is in a range of two to three kilometers [1.2 to 1.9 miles]," Mou Yu, chief designer of the Long March 2C, said in the statement.

Many of China's rocket facilities are within close range of populated areas, making launch debris a more pressing concern there than it is at the more isolated launch sites in the United States and the former Soviet Union. China, a recent SpaceNews article observed, chose to build its launchpads inland despite this risk because of national security concerns.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: