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Reusable experimental spacecraft launched

By Zhao Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-05 08:00
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China launched a reusable experimental spacecraft with a Long March 2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Friday afternoon, according to a major space contractor.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the leading State-owned space conglomerate, said in a statement that the robotic vehicle will be in orbit for a period to verify reusable technologies that will serve as technological foundations for the peaceful use of space. Then the spacecraft will return to Earth and land at a preset site.

The company did not elaborate on details of the mission and the spacecraft, nor publish pictures of the liftoff or scenes inside the command and control hall.

An article published in March by the company's Xi'an Aerospace Propulsion Institute in Shaanxi province said on its WeChat account that "the next Long March 2F flight will be an important scientific experimental mission and will lay the foundation for future manned space programs".

The mission "will be crucial to next-generation aerospace technologies". Therefore the institute "must make sure it will succeed", said the article.

According to experts, reusable spacecrafts will have a wide range of applications such as carrying out space tours for civilians, transporting astronauts, resupplying space stations and placing satellites into orbit at lower cost.

China's space contractors have been studying and demonstrating reusable technologies for their space program for several years.

In June 2017, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp said its designers "are verifying two designs for reusable rockets"-one will use the vertical landing system to retrieve the main body of a carrier rocket and the other will use parachutes.

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, another State-owned space contractor, announced at the same time that its researchers "are developing reusable spacecrafts capable of conducting takeoff and landing at airports".

The cutting-edge spacecraft's key technologies and major components such as its engine "have passed ground tests and the program is proceeding smoothly", company executives said at that time.

Friday's mission was the 344th launch of the Long March rocket fleet and the 14th of the Long March 2F, which is mainly tasked with serving China's manned space program.

Before this mission, all of Long March 2F's previous flights involved manned space missions. It sent six manned and five pilot-less spaceships as well as two space labs into low-Earth orbit.

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