China: Launch of Reusable Spacecraft

On August 4, 2022, China launched a reusable experimental spacecraft into orbit. It was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, on Long March 2F rocket. Spacecraft will be placed into low Earth orbit. A similar clandestine mission was launched by China in 2020.

Highlights:

  • Spacecraft will operate in orbit for some time and then return to intended landing site in China.
  • Technical verification of reusable and in-orbit services will be done as per plan, in a bid to provide technical support to peaceful use of space.
  • No launch related images have been released by the China’s space authorities.
  • Less information is out to public about the spacecraft. Thus, based on previous activities, it is being speculated that vehicle is a spaceplane.
  • It is possibly an orbital segment and will operate with a reusable suborbital stage, which was tested in 2021.

China’s Long March 2F launch vehicle usually launch China’s Shenzhou crewed missions. It is having a payload capacity of around 8 metric tons to low Earth orbit. The launched spacecraft could be of same size and function to X-37B space plane of US Air Force. Long March 2F and its payload would have been modified, to assist the launch of ‘reusable test spacecraft’.

Background:

Earlier, China had carried the orbital test of a reusable experimental spacecraft in September 2020. Spacecraft had spent just 2 days in orbit and released a small payload before landing back in China. This mission appears to fit into space transportation development plans made by Chinese main space contractor, CASC.

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