Artwork depicts a notional Chinese space plane design.
Credit: Unknown source

China’s space plane – ‘round and ‘round it goes – when and where it stops, nobody knows.

China’s unpiloted and reusable experimental spacecraft was sent up on Friday (Beijing time) and continues to circuit the globe.

China Aerospace Science and Technology (CAST) Corporation, the leading State-owned space conglomerate, said the robotic vehicle will stay in its orbit for a period to verify reusable technologies.

Then the spacecraft will fly back to Earth and auto-land at an unspecified, preset site.

Landing strip for possible touch down of China’s space plane in the Gobi Desert? Credit: Maxar Technologies 2020, Google Earth)

CAST has not elaborated on details of the mission and the spacecraft. It has not published pictures of the space plane-boosted, Long March 2F liftoff, nor scenes inside the command and control hall.

Friday’s mission was the 344th launch of the Long March rocket fleet and the 14th of the Long March 2F. That launcher is primarily tasked with serving China’s crewed space program.

All of the Long March 2F’s previous flights involved space piloted missions; the rocket sent six crewed and five unpiloted spaceships into low-Earth orbit, as well as two space labs.

Chinese websites have displayed various images of a Chinese Long March 2F launch, but experts say no true image of the space plane booster have been issued.
Credit: file pic


Sky-watching observers

Meanwhile, sky-watching observers are keeping an eye on the craft.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) ID for the craft is: 46389. The international code is: 2020-063A

Tracking information has the space plane pegged at a perigee (low point to Earth) of 338.2 kilometers with an apogee of 354 kilometers, with an inclination of 50.2 degrees.

One tool in use to help track the whereabouts of the Chinese space plane is:

This Chinese craft is circling the Earth every 91.3 minutes.


Skywatcher Marco Langbroek of the Netherlands tweets graph showing changes in apogee, perigee and inclination of the Chinese reusable test spacecraft.
Credit: Marco Langbroek 


China space plane tracking chart.









Leave a Reply