A Chinese rocket launched a “reusable experimental spacecraft” into Earth orbit on Friday.
The Long March 2F booster lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.
China has released no details about the vehicle. However, it could be similar to the U.S. military’s X-37B reusable space plane.
“After a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to the scheduled landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space,” the official Xinhua news agency said.
The Long March 2F rocket has been used to launch Shenzhou crewed spacecraft and two Tiangong space stations. This was the 14th launch of the booster.
China had a highly successful year in space in 2013, sending a second crew to live aboard the Tiangong-1 space station in June and becoming only the third nation to successfully soft land a spacecraft on the moon in December. As the year ended, the Yutu rover had completed its first exploration of the lunar surface and had entered a hibernation period for a long lunar night.
With increasingly sophisticated spacecraft, a reliable stable of Long March launch vehicles, and ambitious plans for the future, China has made itself a major player in the international space arena as space agencies in the United States and Europe face budgetary pressures and Russia struggles to revive a once formidable space program.
China is opening up its human spaceflight program to foreign astronauts:
We would like to train astronauts from other countries and organizations that have such a demand, and we would be glad to provide trips to foreign astronauts,” said Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency. We will also welcome foreign astronauts who have received our training to work in our future space station.”
PARIS, 8 October 2012 (ESA PR) — Wang Zhaoyao, Director General of the China Manned Space Agency, accompanied by the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang, met ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain at the Agency’s headquarters in Paris on 8 October.
Mr Dordain congratulated Mr Wang on the successful Shenzhou-9 mission, stating how impressed he had been when learning of the flawless automatic and manual docking with Tiangong-1.
Following earlier discussions, the two sides have agreed to continue talking about possible avenues for cooperation between ESA and the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
A delegation from CMSA and the Chinese Astronaut Centre will visit the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne in the near future with a view to sharing experiences in astronaut training.
China Open To Human Spaceflight Cooperation Aviation Week
Chinaâ€™s human spaceflight program is developing a 13-ton cargo carrier to supply the space station it plans to orbit late this decade, but the programâ€™s leader is ready to discuss using it for International Space Station logistics, as well.
Chinese officials have said that they plan to launch their Tiangong-1 space station by the end of next year or in 2011, according to a report on CCTV.
Qi Faren, Shenzhou-5 designer, said, “Quality is the key to technology. We must guarantee a successful launch. We will launch it whenever we are ready. It will be the end of 2010, or the beginning of 2011.”
China Developing Unmanned Module as Space Station Precursor Space News
China hopes to attract international partners to its effort to send an unmanned space module into low Earth orbit in late 2010 as a precursor to a larger human-tended space station, Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program said April 2 at the National Space Symposium here.
Over at Aviation Week, Jeffrey Manber has a theory about why the Chinese made a detailed announcement about the Tiangong orbital space station:
Why the announcement from Beijing now? One answer is that the end of their first lunar mission is a perfect moment to detail far more ambitious plans. But I think that could well be anÂ incorrect explanation.
Craig Covault has more on China’s planned space station project over at Spaceflight Now:
China is aggressively accelerating the pace of its manned space program by developing a 17,000 lb. man-tended military space laboratory planned for launch by late 2010. The mission will coincide with a halt in U.S. manned flight with phase-out of the shuttle.