China’s space plane launch on September 4th via a Long March-2F booster.
Image courtesy LaunchStuff via weibo.com

 

Satellite tracker Bob Christy reports on his Zarya.info website and the Seesat-l website that China’s space plane deployed a payload before landing on Earth.

“The object may have separated from the space plane earlier than suggested,” Christy says. “The two may have been orbiting close together for some time, with the second object getting a separate identity only when it was sufficiently separated from the space plane to be detected in its own right.”

Image snagged by the Banxing-2 microsatellite that was deployed from the Tiangong-2 shows Shenzhou-11 (above) and Tiangong-2 docked in orbit on October 23, 2016.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Inspector satellite?

Christy adds that, before descent to Earth on September 6, China’s space plane lowered its orbit by about one kilometer.

The new object was later cataloged in the space plane’s original orbit. Its first element set was issued around three hours after the space plane landed but the first reliable set appeared around seven hours after that.

Speculation has it that the object is a Banxing inspector satellite, “probably used to inspect the main vehicle while on orbit and may also carry a science/technology payload,” Christy adds. Similar satellites were deployed from China’s Shenzhou-7 and Tiangong-2 space lab.

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