File photo of a previous Long March 2F launch. Credit: Xinhua
A mysterious space vehicle described by Chinese state media as an experimental reusable spacecraft completed a two-day flight inn low Earth orbit Sunday.
The spacecraft took off on top of a Long March 2F rocket Friday from the Jiuquan launch base in the Gobi Desert of northwestern China, according to a statement from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., or CASC, the state-owned company that oversees China’s space industry.
CASIC and Chinese state media did not report the mission’s launch time. Chinese officials also did not release any photos of the Long March 2F rocket or its secret payload, which was widely suspected by space observers inside and outside of China to be a winged spaceplane.
The U.S. military’s network of satellite tracking stations detected the clandestine Chinese spacecraft in an orbit ranging in altitude between 206 miles and 216 miles (332 and 348 kilometers). The spacecraft was tracked in an orbital plane tilted 50.2 degrees to the equator.
Analysts who assessed the spacecraft’s orbital data pinned down the mission’s launch time to around 0730 GMT (3:30 a.m. EDT; 3:30 p.m. Beijing time) Friday, Sept. 4.
Chinese state ...