The mysterious Chinese reusable spacecraft which made a trip into space last week launched an unknown object into orbit before returning to Earth, SpaceNews.com has reported.
According to the outlet, the object was picked up by US space surveillance, and given the designation NORAD ID 46395 (2020-063G COSPAR ID). The object is said to be orbiting in a similar orbit pattern and angle as the spacecraft before its deorbiting, and was reportedly released from the craft two orbits before its return to Earth.
Interesting! A new object (2020-063G, nr 46395) has been catalogued, in a 332 x 348 km orbit. My analysis suggests it was ejected from China's experimental spacecraft near 22:25 UT on the 5th, about two revolutions before landing.— Dr Marco Langbroek (@Marco_Langbroek) September 6, 2020
(HT to @planet4589 for noting the extra object)
China has not released any information about the mystery object, with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation and local media giving little information about the reusable spacecraft itself, with no images, videos, or details about its characteristics provided, prompting Western space observers to suggest it may be an experimental fixed-wing space plane of some kind.
In a brief report on the spacecraft’s successful return to Earth on Sunday, Xinhua described the flight as an “important breakthrough in reusable spacecraft research,” and said that it will help in future efforts “to offer convenient and low-cost round-trip transport for the peaceful use of space.”
SpaceNews.com contributor Andrew Jones speculated about the nature of the spacecraft, pointing to the Chinese space agency’s previous launch of a small monitoring satellite known as ‘Banxing’ (‘Companion Satellite’) craft from the crewed Shenzhou 7 spacecraft in 2008, and to China’s testing of a new-generation capsule releasing an inflatable reentry and descent technology (IRDT) module in May of this year.
SpaceFlightNow.com contributor Stephen Clark believes the mystery object may have been a service module, power and propulsion package or sub-satellite of some kind.