China’s Secret Space Plane Releases Mysterious Object in Orbit


China’s enigmatic Shenlong space plane has released yet another unidentified object into orbit, marking the seventh such deployment within the past six months.

This development has caught the attention of the U.S. Space Force, which is closely monitoring the situation.

The Event

On May 24, at approximately 3 p.m. ET, the Shenlong space plane released an unidentified object while cruising 372 miles (600 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.

Experts outside China are uncertain about the nature of this object but speculate that it could be a small satellite or a piece of hardware discarded before the space plane’s anticipated deorbit.

Ongoing Surveillance

The U.S. Space Force has been keeping a vigilant eye on the Shenlong since its launch aboard a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Launch Center on December 14.

Despite limited information about the Shenlong, it is believed to be comparable to the clandestine Boeing X-37B space plane developed by the U.S., known for its capability to undertake years-long missions in orbit.

The Shenlong, meaning “Divine Dragon,” first launched in 2020 and remained in orbit for just two days.

Its second mission, commencing in late 2022, saw it stay aloft for 276 days. During this period, Shenlong deployed six smaller objects shortly after launch, each emitting some sort of signal.

Chinese officials have remained tight-lipped about the space plane and its activities, neither acknowledging the mysterious objects nor addressing their purpose.

U.S. and China in Space

Interestingly, the U.S. military’s X-37B space plane is also currently orbiting Earth.

It launched on December 28 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

The simultaneous presence of the U.S. and Chinese space planes in orbit is “probably no coincidence,” according to Space Force Chief of Space Operations B. Chance Saltzman, who spoke to Air & Space Forces magazine.

Chinese Official Statements

Chinese state-run media have refrained from suggesting any military applications for the Shenlong space plane.

According to a report by Xinhua, the plane is set to return to a designated landing site in China after conducting reusable technology verification and space science experiments.

These activities are purportedly aimed at supporting the peaceful use of space.

Potential Applications of Reusable Space Planes

Reusable space planes like the Shenlong have numerous potential commercial and scientific uses.

They could be utilized for efficiently launching satellites, carrying passengers, and conducting various experiments in space.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Space Force will continue to monitor the Shenlong mission closely until the plane returns to Earth.