China has announced successfully landing a reusable spacecraft which it claims will provide a ‘convenient and inexpensive’ means of getting to and from space. State-run Xinhua News Agency claims that the craft spent two days in orbit, launching on 4th September 2020 and landing on 6th September 2020.
The craft launched from a Long March-2F rocket at the Jiuquan satellite center. Details about the spacecraft are a state secret and very little is known about it, including its basic design. There is no picture or renders of the spacecraft, but the South China Morning Post cites a military source who implied that it may be similar in design to the US Airforce X-37B.
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The US Airforce X-37B had launched into orbit from rockets between 1981 and 2011. The series was able to glide back to Earth and land on runways for repair and reuse. The X-37B made its first orbital mission in 2010 and spent a record 730 days in orbit from 2017 to 2019.
Xinhua describes the news as an ‘important breakthrough’. Xinhua also reported that the spacecraft tested reusable technologies during its flight ‘providing technological support for the peaceful use of space’.
The alleged military source told the South China Morning Post that there were ‘many firsts in this launch’, which they believe explains the secrecy. “The spacecraft is new, the launch method is also different. That’s why we needed to make sure there is extra security,” the source said.
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