Saturday, September 19, 2020

Satellites Spot Possible Secret Chinese Space Plane Recovery Base

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Commercial satellite imagery from Planet Labs and other Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) indicate that China’s recent secretive space launch tested an experimental reusable spacecraft like the U.S. Air Force’s similarly secretive X-37B spaceplane. The imagery obtained by The Drive shows a remote air base with an incredibly long runway in China’s northwest.

The secret air base is near the Lop Nor nuclear test site, and according to The Drive, has “a runway more than 16,400 feet long, or over three miles in total length, making it one of the longest in the world.” This massive runway, with very little ramp space for aircraft, would make it ideal to land a spaceplane.

Based on analysis of the Chinese spacecraft’s trajectories and the satellite imagery of this newly discovered airbase, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, stated in a tweet that:

All data *consistent* with an experimental X-37-style spaceplane launch BUT*** – “reusable” doesn’t necessarily mean “winged”. – still *could* be a Dragon style capsule with a parachute landing in the Taklamakan somewhere – exact launch and landing times not announced by China So we should be clear about what is known and what is a guess.

If China’s reusable space vehicle isn’t a spaceplane, it is possible that a capsule-like reusable spacecraft – like America’s Space-X’s Dragon – could also have landed in the desert near the air base, notes The Drive.

However, other evidence, such as the large payload fairing on top of the Long March 2F carrier rocket seen in the images from this tweet by Andrew Jones, points to the experimental spacecraft being a spaceplane.

Regardless of the specific type of experimental spacecraft China is developing, it only demonstrates its growing ability to threaten vital U.S. space-based assets. Chief of Space Operations General John “Jay” Raymond, U.S. Space Force’s senior uniformed officer, stated in July that at least one of China’s recent space launches had actually been a test of an on-orbit anti-satellite weapon.

SEE ALSO: U.S. Battles China and Russia for Space Dominance

The Pentagon’s recent report to Congress on the Chinese military and security threat also addressed this growing Chinese space threat. It states that:

The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] continues to acquire and develop a range of counterspace capabilities and related technologies, including kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, and orbiting space robots, as well as expanding space surveillance capabilities, which can monitor objects in space within their field of view and enable counterspace actions…

Regarding this newly publicized “spaceplane recovery base,” and similar facilities, the Defense Department report also notes:

China has built an expansive ground support infrastructure to support its growing on-orbit fleet and related functions including spacecraft and space launch vehicle (SLV) manufacture, launch, C2, and data downlink…Additionally, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to develop counterspace capabilities—including direct ascent, co-orbital, electronic warfare, and directed energy capabilities—that can contest or deny an adversary’s access to and operations in the space domain during a crisis or conflict.

Hopefully, we will learn more of this spacecraft soon. But whatever type of spacecraft China is developing, it is certainly part of its dangerous effort to militarize and dominate space. President Trump’s creation and launch last year of the new U.S. Space Force, and his plans to land humans on the moon by 2024, are only part of the U.S. strategy to prevent China from achieving that goal.

READ NEXT: Trump Order Allows US to Exploit Outer Space >>

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Paul Crespo
Paul Crespo
Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

9 COMMENTS

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John Conrad
John Conrad
9 days ago

If it looks like the Chinese copied the US plans for this aircraft, then those
w
ho are in charge of the program and the IT department should all be fired and
arrested and put in jail. It is not the Chinese that is to blame but the management of the security of the company. All that’s needed is to not connect to the Internet and if they are so incompetent that they cannot make a system like that then they should not be working in a high security place

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
8 days ago

Need to track Chinese launches of reentry module & track into atmosphere?

Truth
Truth
6 days ago

We need to do a quiet stealth takedown

Coach
Coach
6 days ago

What’s this. If you hover your mouse over the photograph, Edwards Air Force Base appears in a tiny window. Why is my boot filling up with liquid?

Walkin O'Shea
Walkin O'Shea
5 days ago

We should also be talking about just how the Chinese have come so far, and in such a short time in developing space vehicles. Not that many years ago we were at the top of the food chain and now we see stolen technology and engineering being used against us. Maybe we should be a little more (read, a lot more) concerned about just how the Chinese are coming up with our science. Tighten up our security and just plain don’t be so vocal with our secrets. The Chinese are excellent at reverse engineering.

Jimmy Killian
Jimmy Killian
5 days ago
Reply to  Walkin O'Shea

Don’t have a Chinese Chauffer for your Limo for 20 years!

Allan Roberts
Allan Roberts
5 days ago

China will have the BEST technology they can STEAL. It is who they are. But they will claim ilt was their own.

Richard V Piscitello
Richard V Piscitello
5 days ago

BAHAHAHAA….. That’s Edwards Air Force Base in CA. Kinda like China but not quite Communist yet. They’re working on it though….. the Democrats.

Just look up Edwards Overhead View and you’ll find the same exact picture.

George Goodall
George Goodall
5 days ago

This pic is obviously Edwards AFB. What gives?

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