Yesterday China launched a Long March 2F rocket that carried some sort of reusable spacecraft into space. Precisely what kind of spacecraft China launched is a mystery, but it was possibly a reusable spaceplane. The United States has its own reusable spaceplane called the X-37B that spends extended periods in orbit.
Whatever China put into orbit will remain there “for a period of time.” While Chinese authorities aren’t and saying exactly what the spaceship is for, it has said that the vehicle is meant to further the “peaceful use of space.” China has offered no official photos or renderings of the vehicle.
It is known that China has been exploring different concepts for spaceplanes for several years. The Chinese government did confirm in 2017 that its main space contractor was at work on a reusable experimental spacecraft that could land horizontally. Adding to the mystery surrounding the recent launch were modifications made to the launch tower where the Long March 2F rockets take off at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
Modifications were made to the top part of the launch tower to accommodate something wider in diameter than a typical rocket. Chinese authorities have only referred to the payload aboard the rocket as a “reusable test spacecraft.” What exactly the spacecraft looks like and what it will do in orbit is a mystery.
China has said that the spacecraft will be used to perform reusable technology verification while in orbit. China is not the only country that likes to be mysterious about what it’s up to. The United States has been quite mysterious about what exactly the X-37B is up to while in orbit.