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An End To Coastal Spaceports?



China has a long history of dropping spent rocket stages on its own territory, but it's starting to address the problem, by copying SpaceX.

Since the dawn of the space age, it has been assumed that the first stage of a rocket was going to fall somewhere, which is why most launch sites are located on coasts, so that somewhere is in the water where it will harm no one but sea creatures. For reasons explained in the linked article, China did not have that luxury until very recently, and there are rumors of one case where one fell on a village and caused casualties (it's hard to verify such rumors in a secretive country like China).

So it's good news , at least for people living downrange, that they are finally addressing the problem, by instead learning to safely recover the first stage, as SpaceX has now been doing routinely for over half a decade.

But there is an interesting implication for other countries as well, which could potentially be bad news for existing coastal spaceports. If SpaceX succeeds in demonstrating the reliability of its reusable rockets, at some point, they could be launched from inland locations, and overfly populated areas. This could provide much more flexibility in launch azimuth and orbital inclination, taking away the intrinsic geographical advantage of the current sites. After all, many people live at the end of airport runways with no concerns. There will come a time when people will marvel at the notion that a rocket would shed parts downrange as part of a nominal flight. And that time may not be far off.

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