11:38 GMT27 September 2020
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    The People’s Republic successfully launched a reusable spacecraft into space atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert last Friday, with Chinese media reporting the experimental spacecraft’s successful return to Earth on Sunday.

    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.

    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.

    Last week, an unnamed military source told the South China Morning Post that the mystery spacecraft itself may have been a Boeing X-37B-style spaceplane, with the latter bearing similarities to and borrowing design concepts from the old US Space Shuttle design, and Soviet experiments in the creation of small, reusable space planes in the 1970s and 1980s.

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