I saw this announcement several days ago on NPR – New Chinese Space Plane Landed At Mysterious Air Base, Evidence Suggests: https://www.npr.org/2020/09/09/911113352/new-chinese-space-plane-landed-at-mysterious-air-base-evidence-suggests. The article also has an audio clip. The article is longer, but thought to cut it to keep it short. Worth a read if you are into things space-related.
Heard on All Things Considered
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.
Terse statements by China’s official Xinhua news agency said only that a Long March 2F rocket had carried a “reusable experimental spacecraft” into orbit and that the launch and landing were successful. The landing took place on Sept. 6 at almost the exact time the photo was snapped by the passing satellite.
“I’m reading a lot into a few little dots,” admits Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who diligently tracks spacecraft and satellites. But, he says, the photo, combined with other circumstantial evidence, such as the new spaceship’s orbital path, strongly suggests that China has launched and landed a small, uncrewed, space-shuttle-like vehicle. “The information sort of all hangs together now that this was a test of something, probably a space plane, that made a winged reentry and landed on the runway,” he says.
The new spaceship took off on Sept. 4 under unusually heavy secrecy compared with other recent Chinese space missions.
“They didn’t give a launch time. They didn’t give any more details,” McDowell says. The U.S. military picked up the new spacecraft on its tracking network, and McDowell and others quickly plotted its orbit. When they did so, they found that China’s new craft passed over a secretive military facility: an area called Lop Nur where China once tested its nuclear weapons.