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Space & Astronomy

China has launched its secretive space plane on another mystery mission

By T.K. Randall
December 15, 2023 · Comment icon 1 comment

What will China's CSSHQ be doing this time ? Image Credit: NASA
The launch marks the third trip into space for the Chinese reusable experimental spacecraft.
Officially part of China's efforts to develop reusable spaceflight technologies, the space plane (known as CSSHQ) has long remained something of an enigma.

In reality, it is likely to perform a similar role to the X-37b - a secretive space plane originally developed by NASA before being handed over to the US Department of Defense which has itself conducted numerous secretive missions into space lasting up to several years at a time.

As it stands, nobody knows what China's space plane will actually be doing in orbit or how long it will be there, but officially, its mission will be to conduct scientific experiments and, according to Xinhua News, to "provide technical support for the peaceful use of space".

Last year, China's space plane made headlines when the US Space Force's 18th Space Defense Squadron reported that it had unexpectedly changed orbit and had deployed an unknown object.
Some speculated that it could have been some sort of monitoring satellite or test payload, while others believed that it was likely to be a service module.

What's interesting this time around is that the space plane's third launch has coincided with the unexpected cancellation of the launch of the X-37b.

While the official stance is that the launch was canned so that "additional system checkouts" could be performed, it is not clear exactly what happened or when the new launch date might be.

Could it have been postponed to avoid clashing with the launch of China's space plane ?

We may never know for sure.

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