China’s first reusable shuttle?

My annual birthday-month fund-raising drive for Behind the Black is now on-going. Not only do your donations help pay my bills, they give me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.


Please consider donating by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


You can also support me by buying one of my books, as noted in the boxes interspersed throughout the webpage. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

On Monday China launched the first of a new generation of GPS satellites using a secretive new upper stage they call Yuanzheng-1 (“Expedition-1” in English).

The first article describes Yuanzheng-1 as follows:

The Yuanzheng-1 (“Expedition-1″) uses a small thrust 6.5 kN engine burning UDMH/N2O4 with specific impulse at 3092 m/s. The upper stage should be able to conduct two burns and has a 6.5 hour lifetime. It will be adapted for use on the CZ-3A/B/C series mainly for direct MEO/GEO insertion missions (mostly for the navigation satellites of the Beidou GNSS).

This description make it appear that Yuanzheng-1 is nothing more than a typical upper stage, capable of bringing its cargo to the appropriate orbit.

The second article, however, has a concept picture of Yuanzheng-1, a shuttle-like craft that looks to me to strongly resemble the X-37B. Nothing in the second article however contradicts the first, which leaves us with a mystery. Is this upper stage capable of returning to Earth after it deploys its cargo? The fact that the Chinese were unusually secretive about the launch itself suggests that there was definitely something unusual about the rocket itself.

If the Chinese have made their upper stage reusable they have taken a big step to reducing costs in a way that will allow them to compete with SpaceX, should that company succeed in returning its first stage so that it can be reused.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *