Days after Virgin galactic conducted the flight of VSS Unity to the edge of space, China’s State-run CGTN news agency confirmed a similar test by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) on July 16th. The test apparently, was conducted from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in China’s inner Mongolia region. The craft landed back at Alxa Right Banner Badanjilin Airport, about 220km apart from the launch site, in a subsequently “horizontal” manner
The plans to develop a reusable, sub-orbital spacecraft was first proposed by CASC back in 2016, when it proposed its roadmap for its venture into spaceflight. Following up on that, in 2017 CASC said that it planned to conduct a prototype flight testing sometime in 2020, but it could be that those plans got delayed due to the CoVID-19 pandemic, which originated from the country.
Another test by China?
Last year, China conducted a test launch of another such reusable spacecraft from Jiuquan, using Long March 2F launch vehicle. The recovery of the craft seemed to have happened at a remote airstrip near Lop Nur in Xinjiang province. It is however to be noted that Lop Nur is China’s biggest nuclear test facility and any craft landing around that area could mean that the test could be of a military significance, and hence, unrelated to this launch.
Till where did this spaceflight go?
Since the spacecraft is designated at “sub-orbital”, it is most likely that the craft could’ve gone near the Kamran Line. Kamran line, which is estimated to be around 62 miles from the earth’s surface, is usually considered as the edge of space. However, neither CGTN nor the agency, clarified on the technical parameters of the spaceflight and how it managed to stay up at that altitude throughout the entire duration of the flight.
Could this possibly hint for another space race? Well, China isn’t the first one to use a reusable spacecraft. Experiments in that domain have been going on ever since the 1960s, with notable examples being the American space shuttle and the erstwhile USSR’s Buran, which however failed to materialize due to the fall of the union. The test however stands relevant, as commercial spaceflights are becoming a trend. It would be interesting to see how such flights would perform in the near future.