A secret, rural experimental launch has insiders comparing a Chinese craft to the X-37B. The experimental X-37B launched in May for its second, yearslong mission orbiting Earth. A small, reusable craft with no crew makes sense by itself and as a stepping stone to larger crewed craft.
China reportedly had a successful test launch of its mysterious new reusable spacecraft last week. The South China Morning Post reports the extreme secrecy around the launch is to protect and cushion cutting-edge technology, and the newspaper shares a source on the scene who suggests the new craft is something like the U.S.’s experimental X-37B spaceplane, shown above.
✈ You like badass spaceplanes. So do we. Let’s nerd out over them together.
China has revved up its space game in the last decade. Just this year, the country announced an engine design that could power a reusable spacecraft and launched its first rover to Mars. And while China is famously secretive about all of its technology, when it comes to spacecraft and defense technology, it’s certainly not alone.
Secrecy helps to keep technology proprietary, of course, but it also helps to avoid public embarrassment if prototypes fail in front of the press. Failure and iteration are critical to scientific inquiry, but often harder for the public—and funds-allocating government bodies—to contextualize.
U.S. Air Force
What do insiders mean when they say the Chinese craft is like the X-37B? Well, the experimental U.S. spacecraft, technically a “spaceplane,” has spent about 900 days in space—an estimated 780 in its previous (and first) mission and over 100 more since launching again in May. Boeing designed the X-37B partly to try to correct flaws in the Space Shuttle program, which planned to lower costs and increase reusability,
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