China’s “Spaceplane” Lands

China’s “Spaceplane” Lands

The reusable spacecraft launched by China on Friday has returned to Earth. China itself does not refer to it as a spaceplane, but experts on the Chinese space program characterize it as a spacecraft similar to the winged U.S. X-37B that resembles a small space shuttle.

Like the launch announcement on Friday, China’s official news outlet Xinhua provided little detail.

JIUQUAN, Sept. 6 (Xinhua) — China’s reusable experimental spacecraft on Sunday returned to the scheduled landing site after a two-day in-orbit operation.

The spacecraft was launched with a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Sept. 4.

The successful flight marked the country’s important breakthrough in reusable spacecraft research and is expected to offer convenient and low-cost round trip transport for the peaceful use of the space.

Where and precisely when it landed is among the information excluded from Xinhua’s story, but experts who track space objects using the two-line orbital elements published by U.S. Space Force at (@SpaceTrackOrg) or their own observations, have concluded it probably was Taklamakan Desert just before 02:00 UTC today, September 6 (10:00 pm September 5 Eastern Daylight Time).

Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589), Marco Lambroek (@Marco_Lambroek), and Bob Christy (@Zarya_info)  all reached similar conclusions.

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