Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

China just launched its secret space plane for the third time

Published Dec 15th, 2023 6:15PM EST
usaf x-37B space plane is similar to china's space plane
Image: Boeing / USAF

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

The Chinese space plane has once again lifted off, embarking on a top-secret mission that has left members of the U.S. Space Force curious. The plane was launched aboard a Long March 2F rocket from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Thursday. Nobody is sure exactly what the plane’s mission is going forward.

The launch of the plane was exceptionably coincidental, too. SpaceX and the U.S. Space Force had previously been working towards the seventh liftoff of the X-37B (which is pictured at the top of this article) on Wednesday, December 13. However, the launch was scrubbed at the last minute, with the space plane being removed from the launch pad at the same time.

space plane, x37-b
Yet another image of the X-37B. China’s space plan is expected to look very similar, and is also unmanned, allowing it to remain in orbit for long periods of time. Image source: Boeing / USAF

The exact reasons for the delay to the launch of the X-37B are unknown, though it is likely that it was done as some kind of precaution since the Chinese space plane was scheduled to take off on Thursday. Much like the X-37B, very little is known about China’s reusable space plane. Known as Shenlong, or Divine Dragon, the space plane has completed three launches since 2020.

One of those launches saw the space plane deliver an unknown object into orbit in 2022, though the exact origin of the object and its purpose still remains a mystery. It’s also believed to have docked multiple times with an unknown object while on an orbital journal that took roughly nine months to complete.

The Chinese space plane, as well as the X-37B, are two of the most watched vehicles ever to launch into space, partly because of the mystery surrounding them both. As such, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations General Chance Saltzman says that the launch of China’s space plane was not coincidental at all.

Whether the general believes China was planning to go after the X-37B or if he just believes the Chinese may have had plans to surveil the U.S. space plane is unknown. Either way, the plane is out there orbiting Earth right now, and there’s no telling when it will come back down.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.