Secret maneuvers in orbit: Chinese spaceplane puts an unknown object

A secret Chinese spaceplane has put an object into orbit. Its characteristics and purpose are still unknown. 

The Chinese spaceplane was launched on December 14, 2023. Initially, the spaceplane was launched into orbit with a perigee of 333 km, an apogee of 348 km and an inclination of 50 degrees. Subsequently, it performed a series of maneuvers that raised its height to 600 km, and also put it into orbit.

The Chinese authorities maintain strict secrecy about the mission of the spaceplane. They have not published any images or descriptions of the spacecraft. According to the official version, it is intended for conducting experiments to ensure the peaceful use of space.

On May 24, an unknown object separated from the spaceplane. It was first recorded by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, known for his work on tracking objects in low-Earth orbit. Later, this event was confirmed by representatives of the US Space Forces.

According to McDowell, the unknown object may be a suborbital craft or a piece of equipment discarded before the end of the mission and return to Earth. The object can also be used to practice maneuvers for orbital rendezvous and satellite capture. During the previous flight, the Chinese spaceplane used the object it released for a similar purpose.

According to experts, the Chinese spaceplane is an analogue of the American X-37B drone and has similar dimensions and functions. This is indicated by the characteristics of the rocket used for its launches, as well as images of its head fairing extracted from the water. 

At the moment, the Chinese spaceplane has three flights on its account. The first one took place in 2020 and lasted two days. The duration of the second mission, which took place in 2022, was 176 days. In both cases, the spaceplane put objects into orbit. As for the American X-37B, it has been in operation since 2010. Its seventh flight began on December 28, 2023, and the spacecraft is still in orbit.

According to Spacenews