China's Reusable Space Plane:

Discussion in 'Astronomy, Exobiology, & Cosmology' started by paddoboy, Sep 13, 2020.

  1. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    China’s New Reusable Spaceplane Lands After 2 Days in Space
    On Friday, Sept. 4th, China launched a new and mysterious spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The nature (and even appearance) of the spacecraft remains unknown, but according to statements made by Chinese authorities, it’s a reusable spaceplane. This vehicle is essentially China’s answer to the USAF/USSF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), which made its sixth launch to space (OTV-6) back in late-May.

    This spaceplane was launched atop a Long March 2F rocket and spent two days in orbit before coming home (on Sunday, Sept. 6th). This inaugural launch appears to be the culmination of China’s efforts to test out various spaceplane concepts. Shortly after the launch, on Sept. 4th at 04:06 p.m. CST (04:06 a.m. EDT; 01:06 a.m. PDT), the state-owned news site Xinhua reported success. The following is a translation of the statement they issued:

    “The test spacecraft will be in orbit for a period of time before returning to the domestic scheduled landing site. During this period, it will carry out reusable technology verification as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space.”

    Beyond that, all that’s really known about the spaceplane is that it is the work of China’s main aerospace manufacturer and contractor. This is none other than the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which evolved from the China Aerospace Corporation (CAC), established back in 1999.

    They also noted that this was the 14th launch of the Long March 2F, a human-rated two-stage version of the Long March 2 designed to launch the crewed Shenzhou spacecraft. Based on the scant details, it’s apparent that this was merely to test the reusable spacecraft and its systems to ensure it is up to the task of conducting regular missions to space, carrying both crew and cargo.

    This is based on what the China National Space Agency (CNSA) announced back in 2017, according to SpaceNews’ Andrew Jones, wherein they stated that they were pursuing the development and testing of various spaceplane concepts. They further indicated that these spaceplanes would be designed for both crewed and uncrewed missions and that flight tests were to begin by 2020.

    After the spaceplane landed, the Xinhua news agency stated that the flight “marks an important breakthrough in our country’s research on reusable spacecraft” which will lead to a “more convenient and inexpensive way” to reach space. The flight also marks the entrance of China into the reusable spaceplane club, which was formerly reserved to just the US and the Soviet Union/Russia.

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  3. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    China is Building a Floating Spaceport for Rocket Launches
    In the near future, launch facilities located at sea are expected to be a lot more common. SpaceX announced that it is hoping to create offshore facilities in the near future for the sake of launching the Starship away from populated areas. And China, the latest member of the superpowers-in-space club, is currently building the “Eastern Aerospace Port” off the coast of Haiyang city in the eastern province of Shandong.

    This mobile launch facility is being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s largest aerospace and defense contractor. Once fully operational, it will be used to launch light vehicles, as well as for building and maintaining rockets, satellites, and related space applications. As China’s fifth launch facility, it will give the country’s space program a new degree of flexibility.

    The addition of a sea platform will also help mitigate the risk to populated areas. At present, all of China’s other launch facilities are located inland at Jiuquan (northwest China), Taiyuan (north), Xichang (southwest), and the coastal site at Wenchang (south) on the island of Hainan. Launches from these locations often result in spent stages falling back to Earth, which requires extensive safety and cleanup operations.
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  5. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    The USAF/USSF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

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    So, can we believe China?
    Personally, I'm of the opinion that "the more the merrier" as far as practical space missions and exploration of the world beyond Earth and its environments.
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  7. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Details of the
    X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

    The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.

    The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Based on NASA’s X-37 design, the unmanned OTV is designed for vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing. Upon command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends, and lands horizontally on a runway. The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis, but with an on-orbit time of 270 days or greater, the X-37B can stay in space for much longer.

    Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing.

    The Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is leading the Defense Department’s Orbital Test Vehicle initiative, by direction of the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and the secretary of the Air Force. The Air Force OTV effort uses extensive contractor and government investments in the X-37 program by the Air Force, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to continue full-scale development and on-orbit testing of a long-duration, reusable space vehicle.

    NASA’s original X-37 program began in 1999 and was transferred to DARPA in 2004. NASA envisioned building two vehicles, an Approach and Landing Test Vehicle, or ALTV, and an Orbital Vehicle. DARPA completed the ALTV portion of the X-37 program in 2006, executing a series of captive carry and free flight tests. DARPA successfully validated the flight dynamics and extended the flight envelope beyond the low speed/low altitude tests previously conducted by NASA on the X-40A, a sub-scale version of the X-37 developed by Air Force Research Labs. NASA’s X-37 Orbital Vehicle was never built, but it's design was the starting point for the Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle program.

    The Air Force has successfully flown five X-37B missions, OTV-1 through OTV-5. All five missions launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., beginning with its first launch on April 22, 2010. OTV-1 through OTV-3 all landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., while OTV-4 and OTV-5 landed at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Through five completed missions, the X-37B has spent a total of 2,865 days on orbit, successfully checking out the X-37B’s reusable flight, reentry and landing technologies as well as operating experiments to benefit the national space community. The current mission, OTV-6, was launched on May 17, 2020 from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas V.

    General Characteristics
    Primary Mission: Experimental test vehicle
    Prime Contractor: Boeing
    Height: 9 feet, 6 inches (2.9 meters)
    Length: 29 feet, 3 inches (8.9 meters)
    Wingspan: 14 feet, 11 inches (4.5 meters)
    Launch Weight: 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms)
    Power: Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries
    Launch Vehicles: United Launch Alliance Atlas V (501) and SpaceX Falcon 9

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