US Tracks Object From Chinese Spaceplane

It's believed to be the seventh object ejected by mysterious Shenlong spacecraft
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2024 7:00 PM CDT
US Tracks Object From Chinese Spaceplane
A visitor stands near a display showing earth during an exhibition about China's space program in Beijing, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The US government is tracking a mysterious object in orbit around Earth known to be affiliated with China's space program, which has offered no explanation. China's Shenlong spaceplane, essentially an airplane-spacecraft hybrid, launched Dec. 14 on board a Long March 2F carrier rocket, Gizmodo reports. Shortly after, space observers noticed six objects—dubbed OBJECT A, B, C, D, E and F—transmitting a repeating pattern of signals as they trailed behind the spacecraft in orbit. Astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who has a habit of spotting objects in space, made note of a seventh object on Friday, more than 150 days into the mission.

It "could be a subsatellite deployment, or it could be a piece of hardware ejected prior to end of mission and deorbit," McDowell wrote on X, noting "something similar" occurred during the spaceplane's first flight in 2020. An unknown object was released during the 2020 flight, which lasted only two days, as well as a second 2022 flight that lasted 276 days, per and Gizmodo. The spaceplane is testing reusable technology, according to Chinese state media. "If proven successful, spaceplanes could become valuable reusable spacecraft, meeting the growing demand for satellite launches and other missions needing transportation to space," Gizmodo reports.

"During the in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will conduct verifications for reusable technologies and space science experiments to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space," Xinhua reported, per IFL Science. It "will operate in orbit for some time before returning to the scheduled landing site in China." With little more to be gained from China, the US Space Force is tracking the new object, per Gizmodo. The US has its own spaceplane, which embarked on its seventh mission at the end of last year. "Similar to China's Shenlong space plane, little is known about the exact operations or capabilities of the X-37B," per (More space stories.)

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