China launched a reusable experimental spacecraft on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the experimental spacecraft was launched aboard a Long March 2F. Although it is not known when exactly the secretive mission was launched on Friday, September 5, governmental notices indicated the launch window opened at 05:23 UTC.
Much like the launch itself, very little is known about the spacecraft’s design or its mission. A CASC press release did however reveal that the spacecraft will “test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space.” As for the mission’s duration, the press release simply stated it would return to Earth “after a period of in-orbit operation.”
The reusable experimental spacecraft is believed to be based on the Shenlong (“Divine Dragon”) project. Although like the operational spacecraft, little is known about the Shenlong, a single image of the vehicle attached to the underside of a Xian H-6 bomber revealed a small winged spacecraft reminiscent of the US Air Force X-37.
The X-37 was first launched on April 22, 2010, aboard an Atlas V. Since then, two operational X-37 space planes have completed a total of 5 missions with the longest spanning just under 780 days. The sixth X-27 mission was launched on May 17 this year and is still currently underway.