Planet Labs Inc.
The new Chinese spacecraft may reveal a commercial satellite photo within seconds of landing at a remote site in the western part of the country.
This low resolution photo was taken by a San Francisco-based company Planet. It shows what a Chinese spacecraft might look like on a long runway, and several support vehicles nearby.
Photo Planet Labs Inc. Interpretations of NPR.
“I read a lot into a few small dots,” he admits Jonathan McDowell And an astronomer with the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard, and the Smithsonian, which closely monitors space probes and satellites. But this photo, along with other circumstantial evidence, such as the orbit of the new spacecraft, strongly suggests that China has launched and landed a small, disembodied, space-shuttle-like vehicle. “Everyone’s type of information is coming together now. It’s an experiment, maybe a space level, it’s made a winged re – entry and landed on the runway,” he says.
The new spacecraft was launched on September 4 with an unusually heavy secrecy compared to recent Chinese space missions.
“They did not give a launch date and did not give further details,” McDowell said. The U.S. military has selected a new spacecraft in its tracking network, and McDowell and others quickly planned its orbit. As they did so, they discovered that China’s new handicrafts had passed through a secret military base: an area called Lop Noor, where China once tested nuclear weapons.
In 2016, China built a 5 km (3.1 mi) wide runway. The orbit of the new spacecraft passed directly over the runway, which was aligned with its orbit.
On September 6, China announced that the spacecraft had returned to a scheduled landing site.
“The landing track indicated that the Nigo might have arrived at a new air base,” McDowell said.
At 10:00 a.m. local time (02:00 UTC), McDowell discovered that the spacecraft could land on the runway. The vague planet image, snapped at 10:11 a.m., would have taken seconds for such a landing.
The ground track track of the Chinese reusable spacecraft passes through the airbase near the loop or nuclear test site on September 6 0155 UTC, depending on the landing time. pic.twitter.com/resjPEb6Qr
– Jonathan McDowell (plan4589) September 6, 2020
The new spacecraft is much smaller than the US spacecraft, which was launched with rockets and then returned to Earth. Instead, McDowell and others think the new Chinese vehicle may be similar to the robotic spacecraft. X-37B. The X-37B has been in the US Air Force for over a decade.
Why is China now boarding space planes?
“This is a great question,” he says Brian Weeden, Program Planning Director of the Secure World Foundation, which advocates for the peaceful use of space. “We are not sure why the U.S. military is pursuing the spacecraft.”
The USX-37B program is highly classified. Weiden says he believes it is being used to test new sensors and systems for the military.
“If you can fly some of that technology in space, we can tell by the payload of a reusable spacecraft that it will give you a better experience of how to respond. [once it’s in orbit for good]Weeden says the other possibility is the ability to launch satellites faster and test robotic systems for autonomous strategies and landings.
U.S. Air Force
McDowell says spacecraft, which repeatedly re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at the speed of sound, will contribute to advanced development. Hypersonic weapons. But he believes China’s motivation is as simple as wanting to duplicate U.S. military capabilities.
“If the Americans have one of those, there’s a good reason for that, so it’s good that we get one too,” he says. Such ideas prompted the Soviet Union to develop a copy of the U.S. spacecraft in the 1980s.
The landing of this spacecraft – or whatever it is – is just China’s latest success. It has recently completed its own satellite navigation system, a robotic mission to Mars and several probes on the moon.
“China is firing on all thrusters in space,” McDowell said. “I think this is just a reflection of that.”