TechChina’s Shenlong spaceplane releases mystery object in orbit

China’s Shenlong spaceplane releases mystery object in orbit

The photo shows the X-37B, which the Chinese spaceplane might resemble.
The photo shows the X-37B, which the Chinese spaceplane might resemble.
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain, U.S. Air Force

2:07 PM EDT, June 4, 2024

The Chinese aircraft "Shenlong" (In English, "Divine Dragon") is equivalent to the American unmanned Boeing X-37 space shuttle, which has been orbiting for at least 168 days. According to Space.com, experts have noticed that during its third mission, the aircraft released another unidentified object into orbit.

The current mission of the Chinese "Shenlong" space shuttle began on December 14, 2023. The machine was launched into space using a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. Since then, it has been in orbit. The United States Space Force observed that on May 24, the aircraft launched a mysterious object, classified as 59884 (international designation 2023-195G).

Chinese objects in orbit remain a significant mystery

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, wrote on platform X that the mysterious payload "could be a subsatellite deployment, or it could be a piece of hardware ejected prior to end of mission and deorbit (the spaceplane's first flight did something similar). Will be interesting to see if the plane maneuvers or lands soon."

Meanwhile, Space.com suggests that an alternative explanation could be that the release of the object was for testing various "Shenlong" maneuvers. This was the case during the second space mission of the "Divine Dragon." The website also reminds us that the Chinese spaceplane has previously delivered mysterious objects into orbit. In December 2023, just a few days after launch, it released six payloads.

Chinese spaceplane

Little is still known about "Shenlong." Western experts believe the aircraft is equivalent to the American space shuttle Boeing X-37B. This American machine is about 30 feet long, 10 feet high, has a wingspan of 15 feet, and a mass of approximately 11,000 pounds. The Boeing X-37 is designed to operate at altitudes ranging from 110 to 500 miles. In orbit, it can reach speeds of up to 17,000 mph. The United States explains that the aircraft is intended to conduct space experiments and develop reusable space vehicle technology.

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