China launches mystery ‘test spacecraft’ into orbit HOURS after firing missiles in Taiwan

Earlier today, for the second time since 2020, the Chinese National Space Agency fired pilot reusable spacecraft with its Long March-2F carrier rocket. According to state media CCTV, the unidentified spacecraft, which was launched from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert, will return to a planned landing site after operating in the orbit for some time.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported: “The test spacecraft will be in orbit for a period of time before returning to the scheduled landing site in China, during which reusable and in-orbit service technology verification will be carried out as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space.

According to SpaceNews, this is the only piece of information about the launch that has been shared with the public.

They wrote: “China’s space authorities have not released any images of the launch or related operations from this or a similar profile mission launched in 2020.

“The report did not state the mission to be a second flight of the spacecraft.”

However, the mystery vehicle is believed to be a robotic space plane, approximately the same size as the US Space Force’s X-37B, judging by the Long March 2F’s considerable payload capacity,

This launch was similar to another reusable test spacecraft launched in September 2020, and was similarly wrapped in secrecy.

SpaceNews noted that while the vehicle launched earlier today may be the same one as the previous test spacecraft, which flew for two days, releasing a small payload into orbit before returning to Earth.

By comparison, the US X-37B spacecraft has been orbiting the globe for over 800 days as part of its sixth mystery mission.

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China’s military confirmed multiple firings of conventional missiles in waters off Taiwan as part of planned military drills in six zones around the island.

According to CCTV, Beijing has scrambled over 100 planes, including fighter jets and bombers, and over 10 warships.

China’s live fire drills, carried out by the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), are to demonstrate their military capabilities and to intimidate Taiwan.

However, Meia Nouwens, a senior fellow on Chinese military and defence at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said the PLA is a “military that hasn’t actually fought a war, or had this opportunity to practice its missile and joint capabilities since modernising in the last few years”.