Role Reusable uncrewed spaceplane
National origin China
First flight 11 December 2007 (drop tests)
8 January 2011 (suborbital flight)
4 September 2020 (orbital flight)
Status Deployed (in use), 3 missions done
Primary user People's Liberation Army (PLA)
China National Space Administration (CNSA)[1]

Shenlong (simplified Chinese: 神龙; traditional Chinese: 神龍; pinyin: shén lóng; lit. 'divine dragon') is a Chinese reusable robotic spaceplane currently in development.[1] Only a few pictures have appeared since it was revealed in late 2007.[2]

Shenlong test platform

The latest academic models, shown in 2000, reveal a delta-winged spaceplane with a single vertical stabilizer, equipped with three high-expansion engines. Presuming a seating arrangement of two crew members sitting side-by-side in the cockpit, dimensions could be very roughly estimated as a wingspan of 8 m, a length of 12 m and a total mass of 12 tonnes. This is within the payload capability of the Chinese CZ-2F or type A launch vehicles.[citation needed]

Shenlong Spaceplane

Images of an aerodynamic scaled model, ready to be launched from under the fuselage of a Xian H-6 bomber,[3][4] were first published in the Chinese media on 11 December 2007.[5] Code named Program 863-706, the Chinese name of this spacecraft was revealed as "Shenlong Spaceplane" (神龙空天飞机). These images, possibly taken in late 2005, show the vehicle's black reentry heat shielding, indicating a reusable design, and its engine assembly.[6] First sub-orbital flight of the Shenlong reportedly took place on 8 January 2011.[7]

Earlier, images of the High-enthalpy Shock Waves Laboratory wind tunnel of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) State Key Laboratory of High-Temperature Gas Dynamics (LHD) were published in the Chinese media. Tests with speeds up to Mach 20 were reached in around 2001.[8]

As of 2007, the CAS academician Zhuang Fenggan (莊逢甘) said that a first test flight of the spaceplane would be conducted during the "Eleventh Five-Year Plan", meaning from 2006 to 2010.[9] The state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported in 2017 that China planned to launch a reusable spacecraft in 2020 designed to "fly into the sky like an aircraft".[10]


Around 4 September 2020, China conducted a covert launch of a Long March-2F/T3 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center which is believed to have carried a version of the Shenlong. For launching payloads like the Shenlong, the Long March 2F/G needs to have four 3,600 m2 (39,000 sq ft) cusps added onto its fairing to accommodate the payload (as seen post-launch), which has led to speculation that the spacecraft resembles the US' Boeing X37-B.[11][12][13] Chinese media reported that "the test spacecraft will be in orbit for a period of time before returning to the domestic scheduled landing site. During this period, it will carry out reusable technology verification as planned to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space."[14]

On 4 August 2022 there was a second launch[15] that landed back on Earth on 8 May 2023 after 276 days in orbit. On 14 December 2023 the spacecraft launched for the third time.[16]


  1. ^ a b Moss, Trefor (4 September 2020). "China Launches Experimental Spaceplane". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  2. ^ Richard Fisher, Jr. (17 December 2007). "Shenlong Space Plane Advances China's Military Space Potential". International Assessment and Strategy Center. Archived from the original on 9 January 2008. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  3. ^ "Mystery Space Plane May be Part of U.S.-China Competition". HuffPost. 11 November 2012.
  4. ^ "Don't Buy China's Hypersonic Head-Fake. Its Spaceplanes Are Racing Ahead". Defense One. 13 December 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  5. ^ Shats, Daniel (2021). Chinese spaceplane programs. Peter Wood, BluePath Labs, China Aerospace Studies Institute. Montgomery, AL. ISBN 9798763459043. OCLC 1288576470.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ "中国"神龙"飞行器首度曝光 身世扑朔迷离". 11 January 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2008.
  7. ^ "Shenlong "Divine Dragon" takes flight, is China developing its first spaceplane?". China Signpost. 4 May 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  8. ^ "氢氧爆轰驱动激波高焓风洞". 中国科学院高温气体动力学重点实验室. 23 July 2013. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  9. ^ "國產空天飛機 3年內試飛". 香港文匯報. 11 December 2007. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  10. ^ "China tests experimental reusable spacecraft shrouded in mystery". Spaceflight Now. 8 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  11. ^ @CNSAWatcher (14 August 2022). "Fairing of CZ2F rocket which launched CSSHQ on Aug 5 being openly exhibited in Henan Jiyuan No.1 middle school. If the bumps are spare spaces for wings, CSSHQ's wingspan could be larger than fairing's diameter 4.2m" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 14 August 2022 – via Twitter.
  12. ^ @Kedrskie (14 August 2022). "ミニシャトルを載せてたんでないかと噂されている、8/5に打ち上げられた長征2号F/T。そのフェアリングに大きな張り出しが設けられていて、シャトルの翼端を納める為のものでは?というツイート。張り出しの裏側が見えるコマを切り出して明度を上げると、確かに内側は空洞になってる。" (Tweet) (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 14 August 2022 – via Twitter.
  13. ^ @CNSpaceflight (14 August 2022). "The leaked footage of #CZ2F fairing suggests the Chinese reusable spaceplane may be X-37B alike. 👇Here are some dimensions overlay (each floor brick measures ~600x600mm). The distance & angle between wings and tail fins "exactly" match that of X-37B. The fairing measures 4.2m..." (Tweet). Archived from the original on 14 August 2022 – via Twitter.
  14. ^ "氢China launches experimental spaceplane". 3 September 2020. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  15. ^ @AJ_FI (9 August 2022). "China's secretive spaceplane is still in orbit following its launch on Thursday. The first mission, in Sep. 2020, lasted ~two days, so this is already a longer mission this time out. Only word from China far is a terse statement of launch. A few things to note so far" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  16. ^ Brett Tingley (14 December 2023). "China launches secret space plane on 3rd-ever mission". Retrieved 15 December 2023.