Chinese Spacecraft Rumors Left Swirling

China’s experimental spacecraft that was launched last August returned to Earth this week after remaining in orbit for 276 days, Reuters reported.

According to the Chinese state media outlet Xinhua News, the spacecraft’s mission was to test China’s “reusable spacecraft technologies.”

The 276-day mission of the unmanned craft launched on August 5, 2022, from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert of Inner Mongolia. Beijing said at the time that it had taken significant steps forward in developing reusable space transportation technology when it launched a spacecraft to the edge of the atmosphere for a single-day flight in July 2022.

The unnamed spacecraft returned as scheduled to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Monday, Xinhua News reported.

Beijing provided no details on the craft. Nor did it say what technologies were tested, where it has been orbiting since August 2022, or how high it flew. No images of the spacecraft have been released to the public.

But according to Xinhua News, the 276-day mission marked an “important” breakthrough for China’s research in reusable spacecraft technology that will pave the way to more inexpensive and convenient ways to launch future missions into space.

In 2021, China launched what might have been a similar craft to the edge of space and back in one day. That mission was also kept closely under wraps. But according to China’s main space contractor, the craft landed horizontally.

In recent years, speculation on Chinese social media suggests that China might be working to develop a spacecraft that is similar to the US Space Force’s X-37B, an autonomous space plane capable of remaining in orbit for years.

In November, the Space Force’s sixth and final mission of the X-37B returned to Earth after remaining in orbit for over 900 days.