In a curious turn of events, China’s mysterious space plane has drawn attention and speculation from amateur astronomer Scott Tilley, who has been diligently tracking its movements since it entered Earth’s orbit last week. Tilley, based in British Columbia, Canada, reported strong emissions at the frequency of 2280 megahertz while the uncrewed reusable plane passed over his location, suggesting a potential communication link to a hidden ground station or a ship off North America’s west coast.
Tilley stressed the tentative character of his results. Tilley is well-known for helping NASA locate its long-lost IMAGE satellite in 2018. He detected a clear trend in the radio emissions from the aircraft, with a preference for low-altitude passes in the west. His hypothesis about the possibility of a covert ground station—possibly on the west coast of North America or on a ship at sea—was sparked by this sighting.
Satellite trackers have been observing the mysterious Chinese spacecraft, which resembles the US military’s X-37B, since it was launched from the Gobi Desert. Following the launch on Thursday, Tilley and a Swiss team that specializes in optical-band space monitoring have discovered at least six objects that are now orbiting in low Earth orbit.
Among these objects, Tilley designated the space plane itself as Object A, describing it as very bright with stable attitude control. Additionally, a pair of satellites (Objects D and E), possibly released by the plane, emitted radio signals akin to Object A, suggesting a purpose that remains unknown, but could involve testing rendezvous and retrieval operations.
The mission also left debris from the Long March 2F rocket that propelled the space plane into orbit, including a very bright Object B, likely a rocket upper stage, and tumbling, dim Objects C and F, presumed to be rocket debris.
This marks the Chinese space plane’s third mission following a two-day maiden flight in 2020 and a nine-month second flight, both of which involved the release of mysterious objects. The current mission’s objectives and duration remain undisclosed, adding to the intrigue surrounding this secretive project. Meanwhile, the U.S. counterpart, the Boeing-built X-37B, is poised for launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on December 28, further intensifying the space race mystery.