China’s experimental reusable spacecraft landed safely on Sunday after orbiting the Earth for two days, the official news agency Xinhua reported.
“The success indicated that China has achieved key breakthroughs in researching the spacecraft’s reusable technologies. It will provide more convenient and cheaper transport for the peaceful use of space in the future,” Xinhua said.
No details of the spacecraft were revealed in the report, but a military source previously told the South China Morning Post that “maybe you can take a look at the US X-37B”.
The X-37B is an unmanned space plane that operates like a smaller version of Nasa’s Space Shuttle.
“There were many firsts in this launch,” the military source said of the launch of the reusable spacecraft, which was shrouded in secrecy.
“The spacecraft is new, the launch method is also different. That’s why we needed to make sure there is extra security.”
The Chinese spacecraft was launched with a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan satellite centre in Inner Mongolia on Friday.
Its safe return has become one of the hottest topics on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter. In addition to tens of thousands likes, some users also fuelled the speculation that it would function like the now-retired Space Shuttles.
China has an ambitious space programme, which last year landed a rover on the far side of the moon and launched its first Mars mission in July.
Earlier this year it also completed the network of satellites for its BeiDou navigation network, a competitor to the US GPS system.
Speaking at the 2017 Global Space Exploration Conference, Liu Shiquan, deputy general manager of the state-owned China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation, said the company would focus on developing a new generation of spacecraft that could take off or land horizontally and be reused.
He mentioned at that time that progress had been made in ground tests of key technologies.
In May, China honoured a research team for its achievement in developing a “hypersonic pre-cooled aerospace engine” that could be used to power a reusable spacecraft.
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This article China hails ‘key breakthroughs’ as reusable spacecraft returns safely to Earth first appeared on South China Morning Post