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China’s spaceplane just released another secret object into orbit

Published May 27th, 2024 1:28PM EDT
secret military spacecraft satellite
Image: JohanSwanepoel / Adobe

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China continues to do things in space without really telling anyone about it. Now, members of the U.S. Space Force space domain awareness teams have cataloged new objects being released by China’s secret spaceplane, which launched back into orbit on December 14.

The plane has now been in orbit for over 160 days, and the object appears to have been released into orbit around May 24, 2024. The object was first flagged by Jonathan McDowell, a space activity tracker who also works with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

McDowell speculated on X that the object could possibly be a subsatellite deployment or a piece of hardware ejected before the end of the mission and the deorbiting of China’s secret spaceplane. Like the missions before, China has remained exceptionally secretive with what its spaceplane is doing.

This, of course, has led to some concerns and wariness about the spaceplane from U.S. officials, and even saw the last launch of the American X-37B spaceplane delayed as officials had concerns about how close it was to the launch of China’s spaceplane.

China’s secret spaceplane is currently on its third mission. Many consider it an attempt by the nation to develop capabilities similar to those of the X-37B, which has been running missions since 2010. China’s spaceplane launched for the first time in 2020, for a first mission that lasted only two days.

Its second mission in 2022 lasted 276 days, and the newest mission could stretch on for longer than that, as it is already at more than 160 days in orbit. This third flight has also seen the autonomous vehicle performing maneuvers to alter its orbit. Further, all of these missions have seen the spaceplane release a mysterious object into space.

It’s the mystery surrounding China’s secret spaceplane, and the fact that it continues to release objects into space without any clear notation of what they are, that continue to raise suspicions about the nation’s activities in orbit.

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.