Was launched in China on a Long March 2F rocket, on Friday, 09/05/2020, an experimental reusable spacecraft to realize tests.
Source: Space News
“After a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to the scheduled landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space,” the Xinhua report stated.
Airspace closure notices released Thursday provided the first indication of an imminent launch. No images of the spacecraft nor the launch have so far been released. An apparent higher-than-usual level of security surrounding the mission also prevented bystander images appearing on social media.
Probably, this experimental reusable spacecraft must be similar to X-37B, with some modifications. The later had already been news here on the site.
Apparent modification work had been carried out on the launch tower for the Long March 2F launch vehicle in recent months.
This led to speculation that the work would allow a launch with a payload wider than a standard Long March 2F mission. A winged space vehicle could require such preparations to be undertaken.
A spaceplane project was included in a 2017 ‘space transportation roadmap’ released by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the country’s main space contractor. A goal of 2030 for developing a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) spaceplane was also noted. The plans also included fully reusable launch vehicles and, around 2045, a nuclear-powered shuttle.
Chen Hongbo, from CASC’s China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), told Science and Technology Daily in 2017 that reusable spacecraft would be capable of carrying both crew and payloads. Chen stated that some vehicles would have the characteristics of both aircraft and spacecraft.
After an inaugural flight around 2020, several flights will be conducted to verify rapid re-launch and repeated use capabilities, Chen said. The stated aim of the project is to reduce the cost of access to space.
The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), another giant state-owned enterprise, is working on its own spaceplane, named Tengyun.
“Unlike rocket recycling adopted by the SpaceX, the space plane can take off from an ordinary airport to transport spacecraft into the orbit. It will bring about revolution for the future aerospace transportation,” CASIC’s Zhang Hongwen told CCTV in 2018.