China has started to develop a reusable spaceplane which is capable of delivering cargo to Earth orbit. The spaceplane seems to be similar to the US Air Force’s x-37B space plane. It also has the same mission as the US’s plane. However, the Chinese plane’s key aspects are far more different than the other plane. Chinese state television ran a segment in which they described the new spaceplane which is under development and compared it to the American X-37B.
X-37B, which is operated by the US Air Force, is like an unmanned space truck, which carries classified payloads into low-earth orbit and stays there for at least 700 days. The X-37B is sent into the orbit by a United Alliance Atlas V rocket which uses Russian-supplied RD-180 liquid fuel rocket boosters. The spaceplane looks a little different, but it appears to be close to the US Air Force’s X-37B in size and shape both. The spaceplane will also be unmanned. The Chinese spaceplane will be carried on the back of a supersonic unmanned mothership. The Mothership and the spaceplane will be flying out of the space together. Later on, the spaceship will separate and use an onboard rocket engine to reach low earth orbit. The mothership will return to the spaceport after releasing its payload and will get ready for the next mission.
Another difference with the Chinese spaceplane and the US’s plane is that the Chinese spaceplane will be carrying a smaller payload. This is probably a consequence of the spaceplane which needs its own built-in engine to make its way to into space. The X-37B has a relatively small engine which is designed to maneuver in the space and de-orbiting. The concept video has raised some very interesting questions. Like, does the mothership appear to be some sort of sleek supersonic or hypersonic craft which has ramjet engines attached to it?
Paul Allen’s huge Stratolaunch aircraft will also be carrying small rockets to the edge of the space. It will use six Pratt & Whitney 4056 engines which generate 340,000 pounds of thrust to make its way to space. Not only the speed of the mothership but the lifting capacity of the ship also counts here. The stealthy mothership can also be an artistic license on the part of the animator. The spaceship is currently being developed by the China Aerospace and Industry Corporation or CASIC. Globalsecurity.org has described CASIC as a “high tech enterprise” which is directly under control by the Chinese government and includes seven research institutes, two research & production bases, six listed companies, almost 600 enterprises and public institutes. It is subordinate to the General Armaments Department, People’s Liberation Army.
The primary area of expertise of CASIC is rockets, missiles, and satellites, from the satellite-based internet to anti-ship cruise missiles. The video is displaying a date of 2030. The date is perhaps right since China doesn’t have engines which are capable of supporting a giant Stratolaunch-type aircraft or ramjets for the sleeker option. This will be required whether it goes for one mothership or the other concept, without it this spaceplane is not able to fly anytime soon. Whenever it does, it will enable China to carry out the same sort of missions the US Air Force is running with their X-37B. All of those missions have not been classified, however.