The Chinese government has announced the safe return of a reusable spacecraft, called Chongfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi (CSSHQ), to Earth, after spending two days in orbit.
The unmanned spacecraft was launched on Friday, September 4th, 2020, from the Jiuquan Satelite Launch Center in northwest China’s section of the Gobi Desert, before safely returning to its scheduled landing site. The spacecraft’s purpose was reportedly to test reusable technologies that will provide ‘technological support for the peaceful use of space’, although no information about what technologies were tested has been made public.
Adding to this, no pictures nor information of the spacecraft itself have been released into the press either, although the Chinese government did say that it was launched via a Long March-2F carrier rocket. This makes CSSHQ the 14th mission for the rocket, also used by the Chinese to send astronauts into orbit, as well as its own space laboratory.
The launch comes after earlier reports in which China said it planned to construct reusable Earth-to-orbit vehicles that would take off and land like airplanes. It also comes after reports from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation stating that they had completed several ground tests for engines and other components for such a vehicle back in 2017.
Considering the high costs of a single rocket launch, reusable parts- and indeed spacecraft- may be able to greatly reduce the cost of space flight and launching objects into orbit. As such, CSSHQ’s success marks a great milestone in China’s space program.
Despite this, however, the reusability of parts from spacecraft doesn’t necessarily end up costing less in the long run. An example of this is NASA’s Space Shuttle. Although a partially reusable launch vehicle, it did not make the launch process itself any cheaper than disposable alternatives.
Sources: Science Alert, Space.com, CNN