China sends mysterious reusable 'test spacecraft' to space

This is China’s second mysterious mission.
Tamim Baba
China's Long March 2F rocket.STR/AFP via Getty Images

  • China has launched a classified reusable vehicle on a mystery mission to Earth's orbit for the second time in two years.
  • The spacecraft may be similar in size and function to the US Air Force's X-37B spaceplane.
  • The busy day in spaceflight included the launch of the Jiuquan spacecraft and Six rocket launches.

China has launched a classified reusable vehicle on a mystery mission to Earth's orbit for the second time in two years.

The "test spacecraft" Chinese Long March 2F rocket lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, Northern China, on Thursday.

"The test spacecraft will be in orbit for a period of time before returning to the scheduled landing site in China," according to the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency.

"During which reusable and in-orbit service technology verification will be carried out as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space," read Xinhua reports google translation.

The news agency's two paragraphed report doesn't specify details about the mission.

The Long March 2F used to launch China's Shenzhou crewed missions has a payload capacity of just over eight metric tons to low Earth orbit.

This implies that the spacecraft is similar in size and function to the United States Air Force's X-37B spaceplane, SpaceNews reported.

China previously launched a similar secret mission in September 2020. The unknown vehicle stayed in orbit for two days and released a small payload before landing in China, noted SpaceNews.

For reference, the sixth X-37B mission for the US has seen the X-37B spacecraft orbit the planet for more than 800 days.

The Boeing-built, 29-foot-long spacecraft are believed to be two of the Space Force's fleet's aircraft.

Busy day in spaceflight

The busy day in spaceflight included the launch of the Jiuquan spacecraft and Six rocket launches.

The first was Rocket Lab's lofting of a spy satellite for the American National Reconnaissance Office.

Thursday also saw a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch a missile-warning satellite for the Space Force; Blue Origin sent six people to suborbital space.

While China launched the TECIS 1 Earth-observation satellite, South Korea's Danuri moon probe lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

History of China's space program

The space program of the People's Republic of China is directed by the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Its technological origins can be found in the late 1950s, when China started a ballistic missile program in reaction to imagined threats from the United States and later, the Soviet Union.

However, the first Chinese crewed space mission did not start until several decades later, when Yang Liwei's successful 2003 trip onboard Shenzhou 5 marked the end of a fast program of technological progress.

China became the third nation to successfully send people into space on its own with this accomplishment.

China claims a permanent space station will be operational, in addition to crewed trips to Mars, the Moon, and other planets to study the Solar System and other planetary systems, by the end of 2022.

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