New Chinese Space Plane Landed At Mysterious Air Base, Evidence Suggests

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Appears to have successfully tested a new spacecraft. Last week's mission was shrouded in secrecy. But as NPR's Jeff from field reports, there are some clues about what China sent into space and why. Last Friday, a Chinese rocket took off carrying a mysterious payload. A terse statement on state media said it was quote A reusable experimental spacecraft, but they didn't give a launch time. They don't have any more details. No riel official footage of the Lord's Jonathan Mcd, Alison astronomer, Earthy Center for Astrophysics, Harvard and Smithsonian who specializes in tracking satellites and spacecraft orbiting the Earth. When he plotted the course of China's new craft, he found that it passed over a secretive military facility. An area called Loop Nure, where China once tested its nuclear weapons. There's an air base there, which has AH big runway that's aligned exactly in the direction ofthe the orbit of the space craft. On Sunday, China announced its new spacecraft heads landed. Sure enough fuzzy satellite images napped by a commercial company called Planet. Seemed to show activity on the giant runway right at the moment, the landing would have occurred. McDowell says that the evidence is circumstantial, but he believes China has just tested a space plane. Think of it. It's a little space shuttle a craft with wings probably too small to carry people that took off on a rocket and coasted back to Earth. The information of all hands together now that this wass A test of something probably a space plane that made a winged reentry on landed on the runway at Lop nor the US Air Force has a similar spacecraft called the X 37 B. It's been launched in since 2010. So if that's what China tested, why now it's a great question. We're not even really sure why the United States military is pursuing a space plane like it's been doing for the last Decade or so. Brian Weeden Studies face security issues with the Secure World Foundation. The U. S X 37 B program remains highly classified. Weeden says he believes it's being used to test new sensors and systems for the military. Think about if you're building a brand new satellite, and you've got a lot of fancy new technology that's never been in space before. That's potentially risky. But if you can apply some of that technology in space, let's say in the payload bay of a reusable space plane that could allow you to get a better feel for how about react. McDowell says that space planes which travel many times, the speed of sound, could also potentially helped with the development of so called hyper sonic weapons. Uh, honestly, he thinks China could just be copying the US if the Americans have one of those. That must be a good reason for it. So we better get one, too. The landing of the space plane or whatever it was, is just the latest success for China. McDowell says that recently completed its own satellite navigation system, it has a robotic missions going to Mars and several probes on the moon. China's firing on all thrusters in space on just really increasing its level of involvement on capabilities, and I think that this is just one more reflection of that Jeff from feel. NPR NEWS Washington

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