An unmanned Chinese spacecraft returned to Earth on Monday after staying in orbit for 276 days, China’s state media reported.
The secret space vehicle’s nine-month journey in orbit, and return, “as scheduled”, was hailed as “an important breakthrough in China’s research on reusable spacecraft technologies”.
China’s research on reusable spacecraft technology “will provide a more convenient and affordable round-trip methods for the peaceful use of space in the future, the state media outlet said.
No details were given on what the spacecraft was, what technologies were tested, how high it flew, and where its orbits had taken it since its launch in early August 2022. Images of the craft have also yet to be released to the public.
While little is known about the classified craft, the South China Morning Post noted that “some suspect could be used to gather intelligence.”
In 2021, what may have been a similar spacecraft flew to the edge of space and returned to Earth on the same day in a mission that was also kept largely under wraps. It landed on Earth “horizontally,” according to China’s main space contractor at the time.
Commentators on Chinese social media have speculated that Beijing has been developing a spacecraft like the US Air Force’s X-37B, an autonomous spaceplane that can remain in orbit for years.
The uncrewed and reusable X-37B returned to Earth in November last year in its sixth and latest mission, after more than 900 days in orbit.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard