Satellites Spot Possible Secret Chinese Space Plane Recovery Base

Craig Butz via Wikimedia Commons

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: Chinese Submarine Spotted Outside Secret Undersea Base in South China Sea >>

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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.

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Red
Red
1 year ago

Made in China with U.S. parts.

tracker1
tracker1
11 months ago
Reply to  Red

or ‘stolen’ US research

Mike W
Mike W
11 months ago
Reply to  tracker1

Was that research really “stold” or sold? Remember Diane Fartstain had a Chinese spy for a chauffeur for over 20 years – while she sat on the House “Intelligence” Committee Then there were the Paki IT guys brought in by Debbie Wasserman Schultz – Pakistan has great relations with Russia and China. Then there is crackhead Hunter Biden running around with his laptops I have wondered how it is that a drug addict like Hunter who I just read is also a heroin addict – could make it in and out of China or anywhere in the R.O.C. – where possession of illicit drugs is punishable with death – without help from the Chinese government. Hell they probably got him high – while he was passed out they did what they wanted with his laptops.

Joey Baloney
Joey Baloney
1 year ago

they’re 30 years behind our reusable space plane. we’ve already obsoleted ours and moved on.

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Jayne
Jayne
11 months ago

Outrageous! We have to stop them!

Mike W
Mike W
11 months ago

In another report in the past few days Iranian dissidents revealed/exposed the location of a nuclear weapons facility that Obama and Kerry swore does not exist. Barry went as far as to call everyone who said it does exist “f**king liars”. Who’s the “f**king liar” now Barry?

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Tim Kuehl
Tim Kuehl
11 months ago

Bill Clinton allowed China to obtain rocket guidance and staging technology from us and now we’re seeing, again, through advances in China’s space program how electing a man with no character or scruples is working out for it.

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