(NationalUSNews.com) — China’s reusable space plane embarked on its third voyage less than a year after the covert spacecraft’s previous mission. The seven-month relaunch marks a steep improvement from the spacecraft’s last recovery time of 23 months. According to the Chinese outlet Xinhua News, the mysterious spacecraft’s primary purpose is to conduct various science experiments and provide “technical support” for other spacecraft.
Details surrounding the Chinese spacecraft are scarce, aside from its name. The space plane is named the “Divine Dragon,” or Shenlong. Other information known about the Shenlong is that it will conduct tests for new payloads and carry out orbital operations for China. The spacecraft functions similarly to a NASA space shuttle, launching vertically on a rocket but landing horizontally like a traditional aircraft. China’s successful space plane test came moments after SpaceX canceled a flight for the reusable X-37B space plane.
According to a SpaceX representative, SpaceX canceled the X-37B’s scheduled launch to perform system checks. The exact reason behind the launch’s cancellation remains unclear, and SpaceX has planned a new launch date of December 28th. The next flight for the X-37B will occur as initially planned, and SpaceX is currently removing parts of the spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center. Among the spacecraft’s parts removed by SpaceX is the Falcon Heavy Rocket, which contains the spacecraft until a launch is deemed successful.
General Chance Saltzman, the United States Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations, said the close scheduling of the two space plane launches is not coincidental. According to Saltzman, the United States and China are interested in other nation’s space technologies. Saltzman claims China is attempting to match the United States’ space capability due to the powerful message it sends to other nations. Saltzman’s claims align with China’s refusal to release any information about the Shenlong and the various uses for the spacecraft.
The Shenlong’s last flight resulted in some controversy for the Chinese spacecraft due to an incident involving the spacecraft launching an unknown object into space. Speculation about the unidentified object intensified following the incident, with some officials claiming the aircraft launched a secretive satellite into orbit. Other sources claim the spacecraft launched a maintenance module or a part of the spacecraft no longer required for the rest of the spacecraft’s journey.
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