China’s Secret X-37B Rival Completes Second Orbital Mission
China's reusable spaceplane has landed on 8 May 2023, after spending 276 days in orbit, according to state-run Xinhua news agency and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), primary contractor for China's space program. "The reusable test spacecraft was launched by a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on August 4, 2022. During its flight, it carried out a series of experiments and tests on key technologies related to reusable spacecraft," said CASC in a translation of a post on its official WeChat account.
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center is located in the Gobi Desert.
The mission was shrouded in mystery, with few details revealed about the spacecraft's design, capabilities, and objectives. Some experts have suggested that the vehicle is similar to the U.S. Space Force's X-37B, an autonomous spaceplane that can perform various experiments and missions in orbit for long durations.
The X-37B, which is about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long, has flown six orbital missions so far, the longest of which lasted 909 days. The Chinese spaceplane is believed to be smaller and less capable than the X-37B, but its exact specifications are unknown.
The Chinese spaceplane's second mission was much longer than its first one, which took place in September 2020 and lasted only two days. During its latest flight, the spacecraft ejected an object into orbit on October 31, 2022, which some analysts speculated was a service module or a small satellite.
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