Reusable Experimental Spacecraft
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeReusable spacecraft
Launch massUndisclosed
Start of mission
Launch date4 September 2020, 07:30 UTC[1](1st launch)
4 August 2022, 16:00 UTC (2nd launch)
14 December 2023, 14:12 UTC (3rd launch)
RocketLong March 2F
Launch siteJiuquan Satellite Launch Center
End of mission
Landing date6 September 2020, 02:00 UTC [2](1st landing)
8 May 2023, (2nd landing)
Landing siteLop Nur, runway 05
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric orbit[1]
RegimeLow Earth orbit
Periapsis altitude332 km
Apoapsis altitude348 km
Period90.0 minutes (?)

The Chinese reusable experimental spacecraft (Chinese: 可重复使用试验航天器; pinyin: Kě chóngfù shǐyòng shìyàn hángtiān qì; lit. 'Reusable Experimental Spacecraft'; CSSHQ) is the first reusable spacecraft produced by China. It embarked upon its initial orbital mission on 4 September 2020.[3][4][2][5] According to media reports, the CSSHQ is launched into Earth orbit in a vertical configuration while enclosed within the payload fairings of a rocket like a traditional satellite or space capsule, but it returns to Earth via a runway landing like a conventional aircraft; the landing is conducted autonomously (unlike the Space Shuttle). In the absence of any official descriptions of the spacecraft or photographic depictions thereof, some observers have speculated that the CSSHQ may resemble the X-37B spaceplane of the United States in both form and function.[6][7]

Operational history

Mission 1

The spacecraft's first mission began on 4 September 2020 at 07:30 UTC when it was launched into low earth orbit via a Long March 2F carrier rocket; the launch occurred at China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, located in the Gobi Desert. According to the Xinhua News Agency, "(a)fter a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to the scheduled landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space".[6]

Unofficial reports indicate that the spacecraft is part of the Shenlong spaceplane, which is claimed to be similar to the Boeing X-37B.[8]

On 6 September 2020, two days after the launch, the CSSHQ successfully returned to the Earth.[9][7] According to observers Marco Langbroek and Jonathan McDowell, the spacecraft's landing site was an airbase located at Lop Nur, China.[2]

On 7 September 2020, commercial satellite reconnaissance company Planet Labs published a satellite photo of a 3.1-mile (5.0 km) runway at Lop Nur, taken shortly after the landing of the spaceplane.[10] Astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics speculated that one of the dots visible on the image of the runway was the Chinese spaceplane.[10]

On 8 September 2020, Spaceflight Now reported that US analysts had detected the launch at 7:30 GMT on the fourth of September and that the craft's orbital axes were 332 kilometres (206 mi) by 348 kilometres (216 mi), and inclined by 50.2 degrees with respect to the equator.[1]

Mission 2

On 4 August 2022 at around 16:00 UTC, the CSSHQ was launched for a second time, again on top of a Long March 2F rocket.[11] The spacecraft was observed to have raised its orbit on 25 August 2022 to a near-circular 597 by 608-kilometre orbit.[12] On 8 May 2023, the CSSHQ returned to Earth after 276 days in orbit.[13]

Mission 3

On 14 December 2023 at around 14:12 UTC, the CSSHQ was launched for a third time, again on top of a Long March 2F rocket. Since 14 December 2023, the CSSHQ has been in orbit for approximately 122 days and 13 hours.[14]

List of missions

As of 2023, there is no information in the western media regarding the total number of CSSHQ spacecraft which may have been built or in operation.

Flight Vehicle Launch date Landing date Launcher Duration Notes Status
mission 1 unknown 4 September 2020
07:30 UTC
6 September 2020 Long March 2F 2 days
  • First Chinese autonomous orbital runway landing
  • First CSSHQ flight
  • Landed at Lop Nur
mission 2 unknown 4 August 2022
16:00 UTC
8 May 2023 Long March 2F 276 days
  • Landed at Lop Nur
  • Spacecraft performed orbital maneuvers
mission 3 unknown 14 December 2023
~14:12 UTC
Long March 2F 122 days and 13 hours (in progress) Operational


Chen Hongbo, of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main contractor for China's space agency, said during a 2017 interview that China's space plane would be able to be re-used up to 20 times.[1][15] Chen said the vehicle's first stage would use a scramjet engine.[16]

On 24 March 2020, officials said the vehicle[clarification needed][dubious ] was designed to carry a crew of six.[17] Its takeoff weight would be 21.6 tonnes, and it would be 8.8 metres (29 ft) long.[17][better source needed]

It is not known if the above reported statements directly or indirectly pertain to the CSSHQ program or to some other real or speculative project of a related nature.

Speculation over the spaceplane's role

When asked to speculate on the spaceplane's role Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation said, "It's a great question. We're not even really sure why the U.S. military is pursuing a space plane."[10]

Jonathan McDowell speculated that the very high speeds the spaceplane underwent during re-entry might help the Chinese in their development of hypersonic missiles.[10] He added the Chinese may have thought, "If the Americans have one of those, there's got to be a good reason for it, so we better get one too."[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Clark, Stephen (8 September 2020). "China tests experimental reusable spacecraft shrouded in mystery". Spaceflight Now. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020. The spacecraft took off on top of a Long March 2F rocket Friday from the Jiuquan launch base in the Gobi Desert of northwestern China, according to a statement from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., or CASC, the state-owned company that oversees China's space industry.
  2. ^ a b c "China launches own mini-spaceplane reusable spacecraft using a Long March 2F rocket... then lands it two days later". Seradata. 6 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  3. ^ "China launches reusable experimental spacecraft". Xinhuanet. Jiuquan. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020. After a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to the scheduled landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space.
  4. ^ "我国成功发射可重复使用试验航天器" [Our country successfully launched a reusable experimental spacecraft]. Xinhuanet. 4 September 2020. Archived from the original on 4 September 2020. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  5. ^ "Chongfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi (CSSHQ)". Gunter's space page.
  6. ^ a b "China just launched a "reusable experimental spacecraft" into orbit". 4 September 2020. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  7. ^ a b "China's Experimental Reusable Spacecraft Lands Successfully - Xinhua". Reuters. 6 September 2020.
  8. ^ "China's mystery experimental spacecraft could be part of Shenlong". South China Morning Post. 8 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  9. ^ "China's reusable experimental spacecraft back to landing site". Xinhuanet. Jiuquan. 6 September 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020. The successful flight marked the country's important breakthrough in reusable spacecraft research and is expected to offer convenient and low-cost round trip transport for the peaceful use of the space.
  10. ^ a b c d e Geoff Brumfiel (7 September 2020). "New Chinese Space Plane Landed At Mysterious Air Base, Evidence Suggests". National Public Radio. Retrieved 19 September 2020. The photo, which is too low resolution to be conclusive, was snapped by the San Francisco-based company Planet. It shows what could be the classified Chinese spacecraft on a long runway, along with several support vehicles lined up nearby.
  11. ^ Jones, Andrew (4 August 2022). "China launches secretive reusable test spacecraft". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  12. ^ "China's spaceplane raises orbit and national funding". 25 October 2022.
  13. ^ "Mystery Chinese spacecraft returns to Earth after 276 days". Reuters. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  14. ^ Jones, Andrew (14 December 2023). "China launches mystery reusable spaceplane for third time". SpaceNews. Retrieved 14 December 2023.
  15. ^ Ryan Woo; Stella Qiu; Simon Cameron-Moore (6 September 2020). "Reusable Chinese Spacecraft Lands Successfully: State Media". Halifax Chronicle Herald. Archived from the original on 6 October 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020. Chinese social media has been rife with speculation over the spacecraft, which some commentators compared to the U.S. Air Force's X-37B, an autonomous spaceplane made by Boeing that can remain in orbit for long periods of time before flying back to Earth on its own.
  16. ^ Jeffrey Lin; P.W. Singer (18 December 2017). "China could become a major space power by 2050: Plans include launches, robotic moon bases, and interplanetary manned missions". Popular Science magazine. Retrieved 19 September 2020. The China Academy of Launch Technology (a CASC subsidiary) research and development Director Chen Hongbo told the official Xinhua News Agency that the two-stage spaceplane would be rocket-powered at first, and will be able to fly off a runway at hypersonic speeds to near space.
  17. ^ a b "1st LD-Writethru: China's experimental manned spaceship undergoes tests". Xinhuanet. Beijing. 24 March 2020. Archived from the original on 27 March 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020. With a length of 8.8 meters and a takeoff weight of 21.6 tonnes, the spaceship will be able to carry six astronauts. It is designed for safety and reliability, and can adapt to multiple tasks.