China has launched the CSSHQ – Chonfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi, a reusable test spacecraft – using a Long March 2F (CZ-2F) rocket. The move is seen as a response to the US Air Force (now the US Space Force) X-37B/OTV reusable space plane. The launch, from the Jiuquan site, took place at approximately 0730 GMT on 4 September.
The event was kept secret until the day before the launch when a NOTAM aircraft advisory was sent out. Another clue to the imminence of the launch was that China’s Yuanwang space tracking ships had been pre-positioned around the world.
The Long March 2F/T2 used a larger fairing than usual and the spacecraft was reportedly injected into low Earth orbit at a 347 x 331 km, 50.2 degrees inclination. China’s Xinhua news service reported the successful launch. The agency noted that the space plane would eventually return to a landing site in China and be used for research into reusable vehicles. There was no mention of its likely military reconnaissance role (China has never admitted to anything with a military use in space).
Update on 6 September 2020: The Chinese news agency announced that the CSSHQ spaceplane had landed but provided no official landing site or time. Western sources indicate that the landing was on runway 05 at Lop Nor at 0200 GMT on 6 September after two days in orbit. The spacecraft reportedly jettisoned one object – a likely service module with experimental payloads – prior to deorbit/re-entry.
All times from Jonathan McDowell