Although few details are known, China launched and launched a reusable spacecraft last weekend. The craft may have deployed the satellite while in orbit. Chinese media outlet Xinhua News reported on September 6, 2020 that a Long March-2F rocket sent an experimental spacecraft from the Gobi Desert Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 4, and that the craft was scheduled to touch down after two days. -Orbit operation. The Sinhao report did not provide any information about the exact launch time, landing location, or the technologies being tested by the spacecraft. It said:
The reusable spacecraft successfully launched by my country returned to the scheduled landing site on September 6, after successfully flying in 6 days orbit at the Guayken Satellite Launch Center.
The successful flight marked the country’s significant success in reusable spacecraft research, and is expected to offer convenient and low-cost round-trip transportation for the peaceful use of space.
The new spacecraft could be linked to China’s plans to build and operate reusable space aircraft by the year 2020, although that connection has not been confirmed.
China calls new spacecraft Chongfu Shiong Xian Hangtian Qi, Which translates as repeat-use test spacecraft (or, more loosely, reusable test spacecraft).
Analysis by space experts shows an object in space that was not there before the September 4 launch. The analysis suggests that the Chinese spacecraft released a satellite while in orbit, although the satellite’s purpose is pure speculation, as neither the Chinese nor the United States space-tracking organizations have released the details.
Interesting! A new object (2020-063G, nr 46395) is listed in a 332 x 348 km orbit. My analysis shows that it was dropped from China’s experimental spacecraft near 22:25 UT on the 5th about two revolutions before landing.
(Ht to @ planet4589 To focus on additional items)
– Dr. Marco Langbrook (@Marco_Langbroek) September 6, 2020
Similarly, China has not yet released images of the spacecraft or launch; A higher-than-normal level of security around the mission also prevented images from appearing on social media. These precautions are widely called “unusual” in the West, given China’s assurances that the mission’s intent is peaceful.
In 2017, Xinhua reported that China is planning a reusable spacecraft that will fly and land horizontally like an airplane. In fact, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation officials said in 2017 that it had completed several ground tests for engines and other components for such a craft. But Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astronomer Jonathan McDowell (@ planet4589 On Twitter) – which frequently comments on the spacecraft’s schedule – has emphasized that we cannot assume that the spacecraft launched on September 4 is a space plane with wings.
– “Reusable” is not necessarily “winged”.
– may still * have a dragon style capsule with parachute landing in Taklamakan *
– No exact launch and landing time announced by China
So we should be clear about what is known and what is conjecture.
– Jonathan McDowell (@ planet4589) September 6, 2020
Other winged vehicles have made it into earlier class. For example, NASA’s now-retired space shuttle program flew 135 missions with astronauts between 1981 and 2011. A similarly reusable Soviet Union vehicle, Burans canceled a single canceled mission in 1988, before the program was canceled in 1993, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. .
In the present era, in the US, private companies are working hard to develop and test space planes and reusable rockets. Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceship Touveau, which aims to fly on customers and cargo in the coming years, flew into space during the test mission. Similarly, the Sierra Nevada Corporation plans to fly NASA cargo to the International Space Station on its Dream Chaser spacecraft. Contestants like SpaceX and Blue Origin are in the headlines every week for their record-setting achievements with fully reusable space vehicles.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the Earth’s ocean there is already a rocket cemetery, which was littered with the ejected shells of thousands of rockets that sent satellites and people into space. It is humble to consider these relics of a bygone era, but it is also significant that the lack of reusable rocket technology limits space flight to only the richest countries.
Now, with the development of reusable rockets through such commercial companies, the price tag on space exploration and use is decreasing. Recent milestones of US private space companies – perhaps in conjunction with China’s reusable test spacecraft – could serve as a gateway to the opportunity for transportation and the first manned mission to Mars.
Bottom Line: Although few details are known, and no pictures have been released, the Chinese apparently launched a reusable spacecraft on September 4, 2020. It appears that a satellite was deployed in orbit and then returned to Earth safely 2 days later.
Read more from Space News: Chinese Reusable Experimental Spacecraft Releases Object Before Returning to Earth
Read more from Discovery.com: Reusable Rockets: Expanding Space Exploration Possibilities with Retrievable Spacecraft.
Read more from Cosmos magazine: Reusable Rocket Explained