In recent days, China has quietly launched a secret reusable spacecraft, left it in orbit for two days and safely landed it back on Earth. And although the spacecraft is top secret—we’re not even privy to its design—there are some things that China apparently wants the world to know about it.
According to Xinhua, China’s official news agency, the launch took place on Friday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The spacecraft was launched with a Long March-2F rocket, per the South China Morning Post, and successfully returned to its scheduled landing site on Sunday.
A Chinese military source confirmed to the Post that staff and visitors to the launch site had been warned not to film the lift-off or talk about it online.
“There are many firsts in this launch. The spacecraft is new, the launch method is also different. That’s why we need to make sure there is extra security,” the military source said.
The Post, citing Xinhua, reported that during its two-day flight, the spacecraft would test reusable technologies with the aim of “providing technological support for the peaceful use of space.”
And although details of the mission were scarce, the Chinese military source told the Post that it should “take a look at the US X-37B,” a reference to the U.S. Department of Defense’s top-secret space plane developed by Boeing. According to the U.S. Air Force, the X-37B is an experimental test program that aims to demonstrate “reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments, which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”
The X-37B is a reusable vehicle that doesn’t require an onboard crew. It enters space on top of a rocket, stays in low Earth orbit and then re-enters the atmosphere. It even lands like a normal plane.
Could this mean that China’s developed its own version of the X-37B? Perhaps. We won’t exactly know unless someone decides to spill the beans. Until then, we can only hope the “peaceful use of space” affirmation was sincere. It’s 2020. The last thing we need is space drama.