A reusable spacecraft developed by China successfully landed back on Earth after spending 276 days in orbit.
The enigmatic unmanned vehicle was developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). It landed at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province, northern China on May 8, 2023, the state news agency Xinhua reported.
The state media outlet described the event as an “important breakthrough in China’s research on reusable spacecraft technology” that will provide a “more convenient and inexpensive way to and from the peaceful use of space in the future.”
Though the exact capabilities of the spacecraft are unknown, such long-endurance missions bear a resemblance to the X-37B, a space drone developed by Boeing for the United States Space Force.
In October 2019, the school bus-sized drone returned to Earth after a two-year mission. With its ability to go into low orbit and perform orbital maneuvers, some suspect that the space drone is capable of listening to communications or even intercepting satellites of other nations.
In its 2021 Annual Threat Assessment report, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said China was developing several weapons capable of targeting the satellites of the US and their allies.
“Counterspace operations will be integral to potential military campaigns by the PLA [People’s Liberation Army, China’s military – ed. note], and China has counter-space weapons capabilities intended to target US and allied satellites,” the report read.