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China’s Mystery Reusable Spaceplane Returns After 276 Days in Orbit

The James Webb Space Telescope captures stunning details of the massive cosmic explosion of the Green Giant.
China’s mystery reusable spaceplane that has landed after 276 days may have a close resemblance to this Boeing X-37 spaceplane. Credit: Joxeankoret / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

China’s experimental spacecraft from has safely returned to Earth, according to Chinese state media. The spacecraft stayed in orbit for 276 days and had a special mission to test reusable space technologies.

The spacecraft was unmanned, and it returned to the Jiuquan launch center in northwest China according to its schedule.

Despite the fact that it was first launched in August 2022, the Chinese authorities have not released any details about the craft’s purpose or the technologies it tested. Also, no pictures of the spacecraft have been made public yet.

The information shared by China till now indicates that the spacecraft’s size and weight were limited by the capacity of the Long March 2F rocket used to launch it. This rocket can only carry a little over 8 tons to low Earth orbit.

Shortly after launch, images of the spacecraft’s payload fairing, which covers the spacecraft during launch, appeared online. These images provide some clues about the craft’s shape and size.

The spacecraft seems to be connected to the development of a fully reusable two-stage-to-orbit space transportation system’s orbital segment.

China’s research on reusable spacecraft technology

China has made a significant achievement in reusable spacecraft technology, which will make future space missions more convenient and affordable, according to state media.

In 2021, China launched a spacecraft capable of reaching the edge of the atmosphere and returning to Earth on the same day. The spacecraft landed on Earth horizontally, as reported by China’s main space contractor.

Some people on social media speculated that the spacecraft could be similar to the US Air Force’s X-37B, an autonomous spaceplane that can stay in orbit for years. The X-37B recently completed its sixth mission and spent over 900 days in orbit.

General Chance Saltzman, the chief of space operations, said that the X-37B mission highlights the Space Force’s focus on collaboration in space exploration and providing low-cost access to space for their partners within and outside of the Department of the Air Force.

Moreover, China sent three astronauts to its partially-built space station last year. Chen Dong Can Xuzhe and Liu Yang were part of the crew that went on a six-month mission for construction work. They successfully completed their task and returned home in December 2022, visibly happy and in good health.

Mr. Chen, the first to exit the capsule, said that he was grateful to have witnessed the construction of the Chinese space station’s basic structure during their busy and fulfilling six months in space.

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