Mystery: After 276 days, a Chinese spacecraft returns to Earth


An experimental Chinese spacecraft arrived to Earth on Monday after spending 276 days in orbit, according to Chinese official media, completing a historic mission to test the nation’s reusable space technologies.

According to state media, the unmanned spacecraft returned to the Jiuquan launch facility in northwest China on Monday as planned.

There was no information provided about the spacecraft, what technologies were tested, how high it went, or where its orbits had carried it after its launch in early August 2022. The craft’s images have likewise yet to be made public.

According to official media, the test represents an “important” achievement in China’s development into reusable spacecraft technology, which will give a more convenient and cost-effective approach to launch future space missions.

In 2021, a similar spacecraft went to the edge of space and returned to Earth on the same day in a mission that was similarly mostly unknown. It landed “horizontally,” according to China’s main space contractor at the time.

Commentators on Chinese social media suggested that Beijing is working on a spacecraft similar to the United States Air Force’s X-37B, an autonomous spaceplane that can stay in orbit for years.

After more than 900 days in orbit, the uncrewed and reusable X-37B returned to Earth in November last year in its sixth and most recent mission.


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