China’s reusable experimental spacecraft returned to its designated landing site on Sunday after a two-day in-orbit operation, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The unmanned spacecraft was launched with a Long March 2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China on Friday.
The successful landing marked the country’s breakthrough in reusable spacecraft research that could lead to convenient and low-cost round trip transport for the peaceful use of space, the agency said.
“For the first time, China has obtained the capability of reusable spacecraft,” said Fu Song, an aerospace engineering professor at Tsinghua University. “Spaceflight will be more economical and practical.”
The two-day flight experiment was designed to test the performance of new materials for the reusable vehicle and test the monitor and control system, said Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, state-owned media Global Times reported.
The agency did not give details of the two-day operation, such as the technologies that had been tested, the landing site, or the size of the craft.
In 2017, China stated that it aimed to test a reusable spaceplane in 2020, saying it would be “unlike traditional one-off spacecraft,” could “fly into the sky like an aircraft” and “bring new opportunities for more people to travel into space.”
Also three years ago, People’s Daily reported that China was developing reusable Earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally, and the country has already completed several crucial ground tests for engines and other key components [of the reusable spacecraft].
While China kept a low profile about its reusable spacecraft over the weekend, the country has been accelerating its space program in recent years.
In 2016, the Chinese government singled out deep space exploration as a research priority in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). The Chinese Academy of Sciences academic Ye Peijian said that “exploring the red planet and deep space will mean that China can establish itself as a scientific and technological expert.”
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And China has spent billions of dollars in space labs. According to Euroconsult, a consulting firm specializing in satellite application markets, China has increased space spending by 349% over the last 15 years, reported by Fortune.
In July, China launched its first unmanned mission to Mars. The Tianwen-1 probe will orbit the planet before landing a rover on the surface in order to gather information about the Martian soil, environment, atmosphere, and search for signs of water.
“The Tianwen-1 mission is a major landmark project in the process of building China’s space power and a milestone project for China’s aerospace to go further and deeper into space,” deputy project commander Wu Yansheng said in a statement from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Group.