A Chinese space plane?

One of China’s pseudo-companies, named Space Transportation, has now announced that it plans to build and launch a fully reusable suborbital space plane to be used for both space tourism and point-to-point transportation, with the first flight targeted for ’24.

Space Transportation announced last August that it had raised $46.3 million for its hypersonic space plane plans, and the company has recently been conducting a number of tests of its Tianxing 1 and Tianxing 2 vehicles. A 10th flight test was conducted on Jan. 23, followed by another test in collaboration with a combustion laboratory belonging to Tsinghua University.

Details about these test flight activities have been limited, possibly due to the sensitive nature of hypersonic-related technologies.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China’s main space contractor, in 2020 and 2021 conducted highly secretive launch tests of suborbital and orbital vehicles from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center as part of a space plane development program. [emphasis mine]

It could very well be that the so-called Chinese super duper hypersonic military test flights that various anonymous and public officials in the U.S. military have claimed took place in the past few years were merely these ground tests by Space Transportation, ginned up to appear more dangerous and threatening.

If so, this fear-mongering by the American military community is somewhat shameful and dishonest, and in the long run is not the right way to go about its business. Their exaggeration of the threat leads to skepticism, which actually makes it more difficult to get their own hypersonic program funded.

Today’s story however is important. We must recognize that this attempt by China to apply hypersonic technology to commercial transportation applications is quite smart, and can eventually be dangerous to us. It will help stimulate development, which can then be applied to military applications.

It is also one of the rare times China has taken the lead in innovation. Except for one British rocket startup, as far as I know no western company is trying to develop hypersonic concepts for commercial purposes.