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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
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.