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The U.S. Military Would Freak: Does China Have Its Very Own X-37B Space Plane?

X-37B
X-37B. Image Credit: NASA.

Did China Launch Its Own Version of the X-37B? – On Thursday, China launched a classified reusable vehicle to Earth orbit – the second such launch in two years. A Long March 2F rocket carrying the test spacecraft reportedly took off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.

According to the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency, “The test spacecraft will be in orbit for a period of time before returning to the scheduled landing site in China, during which reusable and in-orbit service technology verification will be carried out as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space.”

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline March 30, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, FLa. (Courtesy photo)

The United States Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron (18 SDS) later tracked the spacecraft in a 346 by 593 kilometer orbit inclined by 50 degrees, SpaceNews.com further reported.

Few other details have been noted, but the Long March 2F – named for the “Long March” that began the ascent to power of Mao Zedong – was developed to launch China’s Shenzhou crewed missions and has a payload capacity of just over eight metric tons to low Earth orbit. However, it may have been modified to accommodate the launch of the reusable test spacecraft.

It is unclear if the vehicle launched this week was the same one that was used in the September 2020 test. However, during that mission, the vehicle stayed aloft for two days and reportedly released a small payload in orbit before it returned to Earth and landed in China.

A Chinese X-37B?

It has been widely suggested that the Chinese craft may be similar in size to the United States Space Force’s X-37B – based on the Long March 2F’s considerable payload capacity.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments that can be returned to, and examined, on Earth. The Space Force is also believed to operate two of the Boeing-built 29-foot-long (8.8 meter) craft.

It was just last month that an X-37B space plane, currently on its sixth mission – and known as OTV-6 – set a new record for a duration in space. It was launched on May 17, 2020.

The purpose of the current Chinese mission is unknown, but it has been speculated that it is also to develop a low-cost vehicle that would provide reliable access to space via reusable launch vehicles and a space plane. However, such projects can still face a number of technological and other challenges.

“Spaceplanes and reusable orbital vehicles have come and gone, and come back again. There can be some marginal and varied uses for them but they are extremely expensive compared to conventional rockets because the stresses of atmospheric re-entry wreaks havoc on the materials and structures,” Bleddyn Bowen of the University of Leicester told SpaceNews.

“The Chinese development of spaceplane technology will be remarkable if they manage to overcome the problems Dyna-Soar and the Space Shuttle faced, and the challenges SpaceX’s Starship is now facing as well,” Bowen added. “We should see spaceplane development as part of China’s wider investments in all manner of space technologies, civilian and military, and not as something uniquely threatening or certain to succeed where others have failed.”

A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Tom

    August 6, 2022 at 9:34 am

    Perfect for spying or deployment of nuclear weapons in space…

  2. alpha1six

    August 6, 2022 at 9:43 am

    Of course they do. The communist chinese are stealing secrets 24/7/365 from everyone. Look at their military equipment. What doesn’t resemble the Russian stuff is a rip off of western technology.

  3. Vendicar Decarian

    August 6, 2022 at 9:50 am

    China: The worlds primary global super power.

    America: Failed nation and the laughing stock of the rest of the world.

  4. Ray

    August 6, 2022 at 11:26 am

    We have not been the best at anything for many years now. It is not surprising that any other culture or country has better technology than the United States.

  5. Jack Radeck

    August 6, 2022 at 3:10 pm

    If they have one they stole the blue prints from us just like everything else the have.

  6. &357

    August 6, 2022 at 3:50 pm

    Democrat run America’s failed not Patriot run post your address death will follow

  7. David Richard

    August 6, 2022 at 5:01 pm

    There is an onion skin thin separation between the entire world and a catastrophic nuclear war. All of us should be very concerned!

  8. Ben Bow

    August 6, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    it is time to prepare for an actual shooting war with the Chinese. We will kill hundreds of millions of them, literally, we will sink their entire navy, with just our subs, their air force will so litter the South China sea that they will have to rename if Aluminum Bottom Sound, the only question is, will they run out of soldiers before we run out of bullets, and knowing they are facing defeat, will they go nuclear

  9. sue lou who

    August 7, 2022 at 3:11 am

    oh well!

  10. sue lou who

    August 7, 2022 at 3:16 am

    i still dont understand how the neanderthals aka russians got their dirty filthy hands on hypersonics! i doubt it was a russian citizen that came up with them, no doubt they hired from other countries! i mean russia is a slavic nation full of well russians,russian slavs!

    • EODGhost

      August 7, 2022 at 3:36 pm

      They don’t have the safety regulations or red tape (no pun intended) that we do. Russian scientists know they are expendable and replaceable. Work or it’s off to Siberia.

  11. [email protected]

    August 7, 2022 at 11:01 am

    Bro – we have the TR3-B Astra. This ain’t shit.

  12. Prof Watson

    August 7, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    China wants peace with all nations and people. China advocates the peaceful use of space for a better tomorrow, like Elon Musk.

  13. Kirk

    August 7, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    China has absolutely no experience in space plane technology, its all anti-American bull crap, just like Russia’s hypersonic missile. Russia has never really showed video proof of that either.

  14. Vendicar Decarian

    August 7, 2022 at 10:11 pm

    “Democrat run America’s failed not Patriot run post your address death will follow”

    Republicans are now become so stupid that they can no longer even grunt coherent English sentences.

  15. Vendicar Decarian

    August 7, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    “If they have one they stole the blue prints from us just like everything else the have.”

    America’s rocket tech is based on stolen German technology. The same goes for America’s early nuclear technology and of course all of America’s original industry that was “stolen” from England.

  16. Vendicar Decarian

    August 7, 2022 at 10:14 pm

    “China has absolutely no experience in space plane technology”

    But they have more and more competent experience in hypersonic technology than does the failed American state.

  17. Vendicar Decarian

    August 7, 2022 at 10:17 pm

    “i still dont understand how the neanderthals aka russians got their dirty filthy hands on hypersonics”

    Well you see. Russians are smart.

    Americans on the other hand are so dumb, they don’t know when to use capital letters or punctuation.

  18. Magneto

    August 8, 2022 at 12:43 am

    If china does have an advanced space plane, it is likely because our moronic military GAVE them the plans. Ask Milley.

  19. Don Thompson

    August 8, 2022 at 2:39 am

    Who cares. Whats important is that we spend billions on instituting woke ideology into the military. That will leave China shaking in their sandals.

  20. Minerva Moser

    August 8, 2022 at 2:48 am

    Is it just me, or does that thing look like it’s all rusty and held together with masking tape?

  21. Bterclinger

    August 8, 2022 at 6:11 am

    It’s not too late to nuke china (before they nuke us)

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