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The mysterious craft, named the Long March rocket, will blast off the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which is a Chinese space vehicle launch facility, or spaceport, located in the Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia. The mission, which will take place sometime next week, is highly secretive and the Chinese military have not disclosed any details of the crafts structure. It is simply known as the Shenlong scientific research experiment in Chinese media, but Google Earth satellite images reveal that a landing strip suitable for a reusable space plane has been newly constructed beside the Gobi Desert launch site.
The satellite images show a long concrete strip constructed in the Gobi Desert, it is estimated as being 1.2 miles long and is 50 metres wide.
It is located over ten miles to the northeast of China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
The spaceplane will operate in the same manner as the US X-37B, though it may have a bigger engine and have dorsal bay doors to deploy space-based payloads before returning to Earth and landing like an airplane.
China’s state-run outlet Xinhua reported on the developments for the spaceplane.
The Xinhua news corporation wrote: “The spacecraft can transport people or payload into the orbit and return to Earth.”
Xinhua cited a statement by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation that was announced by Chen Hongbo, a researcher at the corporation: “Chen said that the spacecraft will be easier to maintain and can improve the frequency of launches at a lower cost, bringing new opportunities for more people to travel into space.”
Liu Shiquan, vice director of the state-owned China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation wrote in China’s People’s Daily newspaper: “Currently, China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally.
“We have already finished several crucial ground tests for engines and [other key components], yielding remarkable achievements.”
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The space-plane goal lines up with China’s ambitious spaceflight aims.
For example, the nation aims to have a space station up and running in Earth orbit by the early 2020s, and it wants to land people on the moon by the mid-2030s.
The new reusable space vehicle, reportedly under development by state-owned China Aerospace and Industry Corporation, is actually the second major spaceplane concept to appear in China in recent years.
In 2008, a robotic vehicle similar in shape and size to the 29-feet-long X-37B was photographed under the wing of a Chinese bomber called the “Divine Dragon”.
In January 2011, the“Divine Dragon,” flew on its first atmospheric test flight.
It’s unclear whether Divine Dragon’s development continued after 2011 and whether the concept has developed into next week’s launch.
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