The Chinese reusable shuttle was successfully launched on Friday in the strictest secrecy. Now the country’s official news agency, Xinhua, has reported that the experimental spacecraft has successfully returned to its destination on Sunday.
China said the mission could potentially lead to cheaper flights to and from space. However, the state media in China still did not provide photos or videos of the landing or takeoff. Nothing is said about what this reusable shuttle is.
Chinese social media is rife with speculation about the spacecraft, which some commentators have compared to the US Air Force X-37B, an unmanned spaceplane built by Boeing that can stay in orbit for extended periods of time. It resembles a five-fold reduced copy of the Space Shuttle manned shuttles, which the United States abandoned due to accidents and high cost, left for a while without its own means of delivering astronauts to the ISS.
Three years ago, China announced that it would launch a spacecraft that could fly like an airplane and be reusable in 2020 – this is intended to increase the frequency of launches and reduce the cost of missions. China has been working on its own spaceplane since at least 2007 – then images of the Shenlong spacecraft suspended under the fuselage of an H-6 carrier aircraft (a copy of the domestic Tu-16) circulated in the Chinese media. Little is known about the program, but in 2011, Shenlong made a suborbital flight. Whether the new experimental spacecraft is related to the Shenlong is not clear.
China launched a man into space for the first time on its own in 2003 aboard the Shenzhou spacecraft.
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