China has had a long-standing interest in reusable space planes. This photo represents one concept under evaluation. No images released have shown the reusable suborbital carrier that flew late last week.
Courtesy: Jean Deville/China Aerospace Blog


China has flown a reusable suborbital carrier, a craft that touched down at an airport in Alxa League in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Launched on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, the maiden flight of the prototype of a reusable suborbital aerospace plane was declared successful. The suborbital vehicle landed horizontally at the Alxa Right Banner Airport.

The craft was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). “The development of reusable space transportation technology is an important symbol of China’s transition to a major space power,” CASC said in a statement.

China’s Alxa Right Banner Airport

Little detail has been made available about the vehicle, its design and overall capabilities. CASC did not say how high the plane flew, or elaborate on its flight path.

Orbital space plane

In a China Daily story, they explained that in September 2020, the company flight-tested a reusable experimental orbital spacecraft from the Jiuquan center. It did not publish detailed information, photos or videos about that test.

Artwork depicts a notional Chinese space plane design.
Credit: CNSA

“China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, another space contractor, is also working on a reusable aerospace plane and plans to put it to commercial flight by 2030,” China Daily reports. “The company said it has conducted a key flight test by a conceptual demonstration prototype to verify the propulsion shift mechanism between ramjet and rocket engine.”

Designers have said that such a vehicle can be used in a wide range of operations, China Daily adds, such as space tourism, astronaut commuting, satellite deployment, cargo transportation and emergency rescue.

Courtesy: Jean Deville/China Aerospace Blog

Lengthy runway

In related news, NPR has published sets of photos taken by commercial satellites showing construction underway of buildings at a remote airfield supporting a three-mile-long runway. The growing airfield is on the edge of China’s former nuclear weapons test range at Lop Nur.

China’s orbital space plane is believed to have landed at this airfield.

Go to these NPR stories:

Satellite Photos Show China Expanding Its Mysterious Desert Airfield

New Chinese Space Plane Landed At Mysterious Air Base, Evidence Suggests

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