A Chinese spacecraft resembling the US Air Force’s X-37B has returned to Earth in what China said was a big step towards developing reusable space transportation technology.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC), the country’s main space contractor, said the spacecraft lifted off from a launch centre in northwest China on Friday and completed its flight according to “set procedures.”
The spacecraft that can fly to suborbital space ought to be able to travel to as high as 100 km (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
The CASC did not say how high the spacecraft flew, or elaborate on its flight path. Visuals of the spacecraft or its flight were not provided.
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“The development of reusable space transportation technology is an important symbol of China’s transition from a ‘big’ space-faring nation to a ‘powerful’ space-faring one,” CASC said.
Reusable spacecraft would lead to higher frequency of missions and lower mission costs due to its reusability.
In September last year, China sent an experimental spacecraft into orbital space on a rocket. The spacecraft returned to Earth after two days in orbit on its low-key mission.
Commentators on Chinese social media have speculated that Beijing has been developing a spacecraft like the US Air Force’s X-37B, an autonomous spaceplane that can remain in orbit for long periods of time before flying back to Earth on its own.
It is not known if both the orbital and suborbital spacecraft launched by China had fixed wings like the US Space Shuttle.
(With inputs from agencies)