The the Chinese saga of the space plane continue. An experimental vehicle has just launched a mysterious object that is now closely following it in low Earth orbit.
On Monday, the US Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron tracked an object in an orbit similar to that of a space plane, they reported SpaceNews. The object appeared to be very close to the plane. So close, in fact, that the Space Force unit had to verify that it was a separate object before registering it as such in the database. The object may have already been ejected from the spacecraft, perhaps between October 24 and 30, but was added to the database on October 31, according to Twitter Robert Christy of Orbital Focus.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, suggested that the released object could be a service module, which houses the support systems for the companion spacecraft. The recent ejection of the object could “perhaps indicate near-orbit burnup after deorbiting,” he tweeted. McDowell on Monday. The spaceplane’s orbit forces it to fly over a possible landing site at the Lop Nur base in Xinjiang (where China’s first version of the spaceplane landed on September 6, 2020) every three days, according to SpaceNews.
The spacecraft was able to launch other objects shortly after the launch in August. Tracking data from the Space Defense Squadron revealed at least one or two objects that could be satellites tracking the spacecraft itself, other Space news .
If you haven’t followed the experimental vehicle’s orbital journey, here’s a quick recap.
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August 4 China has cunningly launched a reusable spacecraft as a classified payload on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, reported state media at the time. This was China’s second attempt to test its space plane, and now it is paving the way for many more. in the first test, the space plane remained in orbit for about two days and released a small payload before landing back on Earth. The current space plane is still operational after three months in orbit, but as McDowell suggests, the mission may be coming to an end.
Test vehicle recently raised its orbit from 346 kilometers by 593 kilometers above the Earth’s surface to a nearly circular orbit of 597 by 608 kilometers. The first Chinese space plane flew at an altitude of about 331 x 347 km.
China has shared very little information about its prized space plane stating which will remain in orbit “for a specified period of time”. The experimental vehicle is a product of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, a state-owned manufacturer of civilian and military space launch vehicles. Similarly, the US Space Force has its own space plane; the Boeing X-37 it was launched in May 2020 for its sixth test flight and has been in orbit ever since.
As the name suggests, spaceplanes are airplane-spacecraft hybrids that operate like normal aircraft in Earth’s atmosphere and orbit the spacecraft when in space. A reusable spacecraft can make a horizontal landing on Earth, similar to an airplane landing. If proven successful, spaceplanes could become a useful reusable spacecraft to meet the growing demand for satellites and other missions that require space travel.