China Launches Reusable Spacecraft — Perhaps a Spaceplane?

China Launches Reusable Spacecraft — Perhaps a Spaceplane?

China launched a “reusable experimental spacecraft” September 4 from its Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi desert.  Rumors are circulating on social media that it is a spaceplane akin to the U.S. X-37B, but China has not confirmed that.

China said little about exactly what was aboard the Long March-2F rocket other than it is a reusable spacecraft.

China successfully launched a reusable experimental spacecraft with a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Friday.

After a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to the scheduled landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space.

Friday’s launch was the 14th mission of the Long March-2F carrier rocket. — Xinhua

However, China space watchers @cosmic_penguin and Andrew Jones (@AJ-FI) posted series of tweets the day before the launch alerting the space community to the upcoming launch and speculating it was the long anticipated spaceplane.

So far there has been no official reaction from the U.S. government. Asked about it on Friday during a media telecon about the release of the unrelated White House’s Space Policy Directive-5, a senior administration official referred all questions to U.S. Space Command. Attempts to contact Space Command were unsuccessful.

The Long March-2F (or Chang Zheng-2F) rocket is used for China’s human spaceflight program. Eleven of its 13 prior launches were of Shenzhou spacecraft with or without crews. The other two were of the small Tiangong space stations. All were from Jiuquan.

Bob Christry (@zarya_info) of notes on his website that the vehicle might be associated with the space station program.

China itself has been silent about the mission — its purpose, duration, landing site, or even whether it is a spaceplane — apart from the initial announcement.

The United States has a spaceplane program, the X-37B.  Two X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles have flown in space for increasingly lengthy missions. The longest so far was 780 days.  DOD is similarly secretive about those missions, although it was a trifle more open about the most recent launch on May 6, 2020.

This article was updated.


User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.