China’s Shenlong Releases Six Mysterious Objects27th Dec 2023
China’s space activities are once again the center of attention in the media as their Shenlong robotic spaceplane carries out its third mission. There is an element of mystery with this mission as six unidentified objects were released here into the Earth’s orbit.
The objects were launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on 14th December by the Shenlong space plane, a reusable rocket that has operated since 2007. Shenlong takes its meaning from Chinese mythology and translates to the “Divine Dragon”. The Divine Dragon, in this case, has drawn comparisons to other aircraft, such as the US Space Force’s X-37B, which operates in a similar nature.
The Mystery Behind These Deployments
The US is closely monitoring these objects with data from astronomers and its Space Force and has labeled these six items as OBJECT A, B, C, D, E and F. The six behave in different ways. Object A, for example, emits signals that are comparable with the “wingman” emissions observed from previous Chinese space missions. These signals also notably have limited data modulation.
Analysis shows that these signals either come directly from the object or something nearby. These signals also have a unique modulation at 2.280 GHz, a frequency previously associated with Chinese spaceplane missions. Observations from Object D and E also reveal “placeholder” signals that have no data with them which is something that has not been observed consistently from these missions before.
How These Objects Are Moving
The objects are all in variating orbits ranging from circular to elliptical ones and are expected to move closer to each other. Object A, which is in a circular orbit, is anticipated to have a close encounter with Object D and E, which are both in elliptical orbits. This odd behavior adds further intrigue and a level of unpredictability to this mission.
These deployments do, however, mirror patterns of previously observed behaviors from the Shenlong craft missions in September 2022 and August 2022. In both of these previous missions, the spacecraft released similar unknown objects into orbits and caused speculations like the ones today. These objects could be one of many things, including service modules, inspector satellites, or simply test items for experiments. China did release a similar body in November 2022, which was most probably a service module designed to assist spacecraft with returning to Earth.
Potential Competitive Edge for China in Space Exploration
The Shenlong spacecraft was initially expected for commercial applications, but there are hints that it has a military use case. The ability to deploy, retrieve and potentially manipulate other objects in space orbit could mean that these objects are intelligence-gathering devices.
This launch also coincides with the US Space Force’s X-37B launch, and top-ranking military generals suggest China’s motives are to gain a competitive edge in the new space race. As China continues to advance its technology in space, there are growing military concerns that arise with it which could lead to future space conflicts.