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US Plans to Beat China in Launch of Secret Space Plane. SpaceX Foils Plan

A secret space plane was launched by China for the third time as the United States Space Force kept waiting for its X-37B to get off the pad after facing numerous delays.

The Chinese “reusable experimental spacecraft” lifted off successfully atop a Long March 2F rocket at around 11 pm (local time) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert, reported state news agency Xinhua.

As with the other two launches in 2020 and 2022, technical details or images of the spacecraft were not revealed by Xinhua and they did not state how long the flight would be.

“It’s going to operate in orbit for a period of time before returning to its intended landing site in China,” said the report.

“Reusable technology verification and space science experiments will be carried out to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space,” said the report, while using the same wording which it was used for the 2020 and 2022 missions.

Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks space activities and rocket launches, said that the US Space Force was tracking the uncrewed plane in a roughly circular orbit nearly 300km in altitude.

“This is very similar to the first launch in 2020. The second launch in 2022 went to a slightly higher orbit of 345 x 593km,” he said, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

US spacecraft waits for launch

Its US counterpart Boeing X-37B, which was originally scheduled to take off at a similar time, remained grounded atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre, after postponements due to launch site issues and poor weather.

The mission, which is called as USSF-52, will be the seventh mission of the US plane to orbit since 2010 and the second ride with a SpaceX rocket.

In a statement, Space Force in November said that it has been planning to carry out multiple ranges of tests, which include experimenting with future space domain awareness, operating in new orbital regimes and investigating the effect of radiation on materials.  

The US military has been tight-lipped about the capabilities and objectives of X-37B, which makes it one of the most enigmatic spacecraft known to take flight.

Chief of Space Operations General Chance Saltzman said that the future of X-37B can be brighter because of the competition between China and the Pentagon.

On Wednesday (Dec 13), Space X cancelled the launch of the US military’s X-37B robot spaceplane and wrote on X, “We are standing down from tomorrow’s Falcon Heavy launch of USSF-52 to perform additional system checkouts.”

Source : WION