China has had a long-standing interest in reusable space planes.
Courtesy: Jean Deville/China Aerospace Blog

China launched an experimental reusable spacecraft Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Boosting the craft spaceward was a Long March-2F carrier rocket.

It’s the first mission of a small re-usable space plane, possibly associated with China’s space station program and may be intended for long duration missions before return to Earth, posts Robert Christy of

Chinese space watchers believe the non-piloted space plane is meant to mimic the U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane, now circuiting the Earth on its sixth mission and dubbed Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6).

Shroud of mystery

Christy told Inside Outer Space that the booster’s launch time was two hours later than implied by an associated Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) filed by China, implying a glitch in the countdown.

It’s not been launched to match the U.S. military’s OTV-6. The inclination of the Chinese space plane is 50° – “so it misses being coplanar with OTV by a country mile,” Christy adds.

“Beware of launch vehicle photos,” Christy says. “I’ve seen two so far, but both show signs of editing in the shroud area. They may be based on Shenzhou launcher images modified with someone’s idea of what the shroud might look like.”

Speculation only, but Christy suspects China’s space plane is bigger than the Air Force’s OTV (could it have a crew cabin?) and might not have used a fully enclosed shroud at launch.

“That could explain why there’s no proper photos,” Christy points out. “I also get the impression that local Chinese public were warned off photographing and filming from outside the launch site – why do that if everything was under a standard cylindrical shroud?”

The craft rode atop the 14th mission of the Long March-2F carrier rocket – a booster only previously used for launches of Shenzhou piloted spacecraft and China’s Tiangong space lab, Christy adds.

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

Landing site in China

The Chinese space plane appears to be in a 332 x 348 kilometer orbit with a 50.20 degree inclination. 

“After a period of in-orbit operation,” reports Xinhua, the state-run news agency, “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.”

Encapsulated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for U.S. Space Force-7 mission, now in Earth orbit.
Credit: Boeing


Credit: Satellite watcher, Marco Langbroek in the Netherlands.

Space plane ambitions

Similar to OTV-6, understanding what China’s space plane is intended to showcase is puzzling.

A recent two-piece blog post by Jean Deville at China Aerospace Blog on the evolution of Chinese space planes could help decipher the intent of China’s space plane ambitions.






















Go to these postings by Deville at:–MeJfnaKV2Ib2BgaYiCgE


Courtesy: Jean Deville/China Aerospace Blog

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