Early morning on the 4th of September 2020, China launched its experimental spacecraft to space. The reusable spacecraft sent by the communist nation is a mysterious vehicle that can be compared to the US’s classified X-37B space plane which currently in orbit around Earth. The satellite would revolve around the earth for some time just like it’s American counterpart. However, the Chinese claim that this satellite would extend the “peaceful use of space.”
There aren’t any clear images of the spacecraft that was launched by China. There are several rumors about what the spacecraft looks like. Andrew Jones, a freelance reporter specializing in China’s space program was reported by The Verge earlier this year about a rumor of China’s space program. In that report, it was revealed that this spaceplane launch falls in order with the country’s space program. Jones said to the verge, “China has been looking into a few different concepts for spaceplanes for quite a few years.”
Another report from the Chinese state media Xinhua claims the launch to be successful. The report also states that the Long March 2F rocket sent the spacecraft into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. No information was provided by the company on or about the type of technologies that were used in the spacecraft. Also, no exact time of launch of the spacecraft was reported.
The report from media house Xinhua said, “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.”
There are also rumors that highlight that this might be the spacecraft that China wanted to launch back in 2017. Space News, one of the pioneer companies that pointed out this piece of the puzzle said, “Airspace closure notices released Thursday provided the first indication of an imminent launch. No images of the spacecraft nor the launch have so far been released. An apparent higher-than-usual level of security surrounding the mission also prevented bystander images appearing on social media.”
Previously however the Chinese had said that they were trying to build several reusable Earth-to-orbit space vehicles. Uniquely in their designs, they mentioned that these vehicles would take off and land horizontally. In 2017, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation claimed that they had completed ground tests for engines and other elements.
The United States of America is also working on its own project to put together a reusable rocket. The secretive project of the Americans called the X-37B has flown four times in space and has brought secret payloads into space for months at a time.
There have been other projects that had put spacecraft around the earth in an orbit. NASA had a space shuttle program that flew 135 missions with astronauts on board between 1981 and 2011. However, the program was recently retired. Russia or the former USSR had their own vehicle Buran which flew a single unmanned mission in 1988. The Soviet Union program was canceled around 1993, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Several private companies had been working on building space planes. Virgin Galactic, the British spacecraft company under the virgin group, had built suborbital SpaceShipTwo which had flown into space during test missions as claimed by the US military. The British spacecraft company planned to fly customers and cargo aboard SpaceShipTwo in the coming years. Another company, the Sierra Nevada Corp., the American, privately held aerospace and national security contractor which specializes in aircraft modification and integration, space components and systems, and commercial solutions, had planned to fly NASA cargo to the International Space Station, as well as cargo and astronauts for other customers, on its Dream Chaser spacecraft.
Although the mission was claimed to be a success by China, as they said, “it will carry out reusable technology verification as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space.” We will have to wait to see what happens to the space plane as it lands back on earth.