China’s Secretive Space Plane Lands After Nine Months In Orbit29th May 2023
China’s mysterious space plane has recently returned after a nine month stint in orbit. There is little known about the space plane with intelligence agencies and experts left speculating what the spacecraft could be. The mission marks the second time the space plane has been in orbit – the first being a short two-day orbital test mission – but this time, it released an unidentified object that has intelligence agencies baffled.
Xinhua, a Chinese state media agency, released a guarded response to the flight earlier this month, saying: “the complete success of this experiment marks a significant breakthrough in our country’s research on reusable spacecraft technology.”
9 Months In Orbit
Mystery shrouds the space plane, with China shielding the world from information. All that is known is that the craft took flight from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northern China in August 2022, released an unidentified object shortly after, and returned in May 2023. Whilst the mission is enveloped in controversy, it also marked a pioneering move in space flight, as the Chinese government is one of the only countries to launch and recover a reusable spacecraft.
The Unidentified Object
Sometime in October, China’s space plane released an unidentified object that was picked up by US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The exact purpose of the mission has not been divulged, but CSIS reported that the object appeared in October, disappeared in January, and reappeared in March via satellite tracking radar.
Experts believe the disappearing act could indicate that the spacecraft may have a manoeuvrable robotic arm that is capable of satellite removal, leading to speculation that the plane may be used to repair satellites in orbit or remove space debris. However, it has not been ruled out that the spacecraft could be used for military applications.
Speculation Around The Space Plane
The space plane is believed to be a small, uncrewed spacecraft that is similar to the Boeing X-37B – the US space plane that was unveiled in 2010. It is believed that the X-37B may have prompted the Chinese government to create their own version due to the military applications. No footage or imagery has been released and the space plane is a tightly kept secret, so the world can only theorise what happened in Earth’s orbit.