China launches ‘secret reusable spacecraft’ with Long March 2F carrier rocket into orbit

China has launched a ‘reusable’ Long March 2F rocket to low-Earth orbit in what is being labeled a “secret mission” from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Aug 5, Friday to test the technology and conduct an in- orbit service. The spacecraft tests include “technical verification of reusable and on-orbit services as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space”, Chinese language state media Xinhua reported. China’s State Council on its website explained that the launch consists of technical verification of reusable and on-orbit services in order to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space.

“The test spacecraft will be in orbit for a period of time before returning to the scheduled landing site in China, during which reusable and in-orbit service technology verification will be carried out as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space, Xinhua news agency reported.

China’s reusable spacecraft ‘well-equipped with escape and failure detection systems’

The Long March-2F rocket is well-equipped with escape and failure detection systems to ensure its safety and reliability for the mission, Liu Feng, the rocket’s deputy chief designer reportedly informed. The successful launch took place around three hours after 12:00 pm and based on Long March 2F’s payload capacity, it may be about the same size as the US Space Force’s X-37B. China’s launch was the 18th mission of the Long March-2F carrier rockets, according to Xinhua.

After the launch, the Chinese government mouthpiece Global Times reported that China’s reusable spacecraft represents a “new trend in the industry” which has been necessary for Beijing to adopt in order to carry out research and development (R&D) of such spacecraft. Song Zhongping, a Chinese expert on military and aerospace issues, told the paper that the spacecraft launched by China has a great capacity for in-orbit operation and is one of China’s most advanced rockets for manned space flight.

China’s Friday launch was also tracked by US Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron according to SpaceNews.com, a US-based news portal on global space and satellites. China had also launched a similar reusable test spacecraft in September 2020, and the mission was kept secret. “That vehicle — which may or may not be the same one that lifted off — stayed aloft for two days and released a small payload in orbit before coming down for a landing in China,” SpaceNews noted.

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