China’s Space Plane Program
Briefing: USAF-HQ Strategic Studies Group
China is aggressively persuing a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) program of research that could lead to one or two early RLV concepts under consideration. The first could be similar in size in the U.S. Space Shuttle, but with less than a third of its cargo capacity. The other RLV proposal would not leave the atmosphere but would carry a second rocket stage that would put a small payload into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). China’s RLV program, however, is not nearly as transparent as the U.S. Space Shuttle program and the current status of China’s RLV program is not known. Data suggests that RLV research is well under way and that a smaller space plane called the Shenlong has been used to validate many space plane technologies. Scant data also suggests that pending a decision to proceed, China’s goal is to launch its RLV by about 2020, around the same time it plans to loft its 60 ton Space Station. It is not known whether China is meeting success in developing the requisite space plane technology, but in China’s official media the space plane gets little attention compared to the Space Station. China’s space plane program is also at the cutting edge of what appears to be a more ambitions military hypersonic vehicle program.
Read the full briefing here.