China launches its version of X-37B

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The new colonial movement: It appears that China has launched its version of a reusable X-37B mini-shuttle, or at least, that is most likely first guess, based on the meager data available.

China launched a new experimental reusable space vehicle on Thursday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center using a Long March-2F/T – Chang Zheng-2F/T – launch vehicle. Launch from the LC43/91 launch complex, under a veil of secrecy with no official launch photos or even a launch time disclosed.

Chinese media emitted a laconic report referring, that “the test spacecraft will be in orbit for a period of time before returning to the domestic scheduled landing site. During this period, it will carry out reusable technology verification as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space.”

More at the link, though the lack of information, especially the refusal to even give a launch time, strongly indicates China wants to limit knowledge of this spacecraft’s position in space, thus limiting the ability of others to photograph it. What is known however does point to this being a variation of a small reusable unmanned shuttle, like the X-37B.

While once again China has not come up with something new, copying (or stealing) the idea from someone else, having such a vehicle gives them a significant capability. They can now test many different technologies in orbit for long periods, and get them back to Earth for study afterward.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

21 China
15 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China 24 to 21 in the national rankings.


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  • Andi

    “China wants to limit knowledge of this spacecraft’s position in space,”

    Surely we have tracked the launch and know exactly where it is in space?

  • Tom Billings

    “Surely we have tracked the launch and know exactly where it is in space?”

    The key there is that wherever in its orbit the vehicle is outside US surveillance capability, it may well be able to change its orbit, before the US “Space Fence” picks it up again. That was one possible use of the X-37b itself, because it could dip into the very top of the atmosphere, change orbital plane using its small wings, and recircularise its orbit, all without spending nearly as much propellant as normally is needed for plane change maneuvers, which is *lotsa propellant*.

    This sort of activity is yet another argument for a fully global Space Domain Awareness System, instead of just the USAF Space Fence in the Western Pacific.

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