Project 863-706 Shenlong ("Divine Dragon") Reusable Test Spacecraft
China's reusable experimental spacecraft returned to the scheduled landing site on 06 September 2020 after a two-day in-orbit operation. The spacecraft had been launched with a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on 04 September 2020. The spacecraft orbited in a 331 by 347-kilometer orbit inclined by 50.2 degrees. Xinhua repiorted that "The successful flight marked the country's important breakthrough in reusable spacecraft research and is expected to offer convenient and low-cost round trip transport for the peaceful use of the space."
As early as 1996, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) proposed the Future-X program, which was divided into two sub-programs, of which the "Explorer" program became the X-37 program. Later, in 1999, NASA and Boeing signed a four-year X-37 demonstrator project with a total investment of 1. $7.3 billion. In 2000, Boeing developed the X-40A and delivered it to NASA. Until 2006, the US Air Force announced the development of X-37B based on X-37A, called the Orbital Test Vehicle. X-37B uses a highly accurate navigation system and automatic landing system, so that X-37B can accurately determine the landing position and automatically return to the ground to land on the flight runway of the earth when completing the mission.
The Shenlong transatmospheric vehicle is a small unmanned spacecraft developed by China. China has established a project for the development of this small aerospace aircraft in the "863 Program". Domestic netizens call the J-20, Dongfeng 21D and Shenlong aircraft the "Three Musketeers" of the People's Liberation Army. Once in 2007, photos of Shenlong began to appear on the Internet. The photos showed that the Shenlong aircraft was suspended under the fuselage of the H-6, but until today there has been no official confirmation of the authenticity of the pictures.
On January 8, 2011, Shaanxi TV News broadcasted the picture of "my country's successful transatmospheric flight test." In June 2012, the Hubei media took the initiative to disclose the confirmation (the picture shows the Chinese Dragon Aircraft). The country is currently developing an aerospace bomber code-named "Shenlong", which is said to be similar to the X-37B developed by Boeing in the United States. . So far, the official details of the Shenlong aircraft have been kept confidential, and the websites that previously reported relevant information have also been deleted. Therefore, there is little information about the Shenlong aircraft. The recently disclosed "Tengyun Project" project aircraft should be China's latest aerospace aircraft to be developed.
China successfully launched a reusable experimental spacecraft with a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China on 04 September 2020. The mission was the 344th launch of the Long March rocket fleet and the 14th of the Long March 2F, which is mainly tasked with serving China's manned space program. Before this mission, all of Long March 2F's previous flights involved manned space missions – it sent six piloted and five unpiloted spaceships into low-Earth orbit, as well as two space labs. After a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to the scheduled landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the leading State-owned space conglomerate, said in a statement the robotic vehicle will stay in its orbit for a period to verify reusable technologies, which will be the technological foundation for peaceful exploration of space. Then the spacecraft will fly back to Earth and land on a preset site.
An article published in March 2020 by the company's Xi'an Aerospace Propulsion Institute in Shaanxi province, one of the country's space propulsion institutes, said "the next Long March 2F flight will be an important scientific experimental mission and will lay the foundation for future manned space programs." The article also said the mission "will be crucial to next-generation aerospace technologies", therefore the institute "must make sure it will succeed."
In October 2017, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology [CALT] said they were working with other domestic institutes to develop reusable launch vehicles, with a planned launch in 2020. China was expected to complete research and development of reusable launch vehicles and related flight tests by 2030, at which time China was expected to become the first country in the world with fully developed reusable spacecraft, Science and Technology Daily reported in 2017.
At the beginning of the space mission era, there was only one form of spacecraft, single-use capsules. Former USSR cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin used one during the first space mission in 1961. Since then, scientists have developed a range of single-use and reusable craft to propel spacemen and women into the big beyond.
Single-use spacecraft depend on rockets to lift them off the Earth and one example of this type is China's Shenzhou series. Launched on the (long march) multistage rocket, the Shenzhou spacecraft consist of a booster module, an orbiting module, a re-entry capsule and two pairs of solar energy panels. The craft's crews sit in the re-entry capsule that, as the name suggests, is the only part of the vehicle that returns to Earth. The orbiting module stays in outer space while the booster module is abandoned and burns up (in the atmosphere). In contrast, the US-developed space shuttles are reusable space transport vehicles. The shuttles are launched vertically like a rocket,orbit like a satellite, and land just like an airplane.
Previously, the most successful project of the spacecraft was the Boeing X-37 test machine. The X-37 started life in 1999 as a NASA project, but it was taken over by the Department of Defense (DoD) in 2004. The first orbital flight of the USAF’s X-37B took place on 22 April 2010 As the latest member of the mobile nuclear force, the X-37B can carry missiles for a long time to stay on the track over the target, thus greatly reducing the attack time, so that the enemy's anti-missile system too late to respond. Therefore, some aerospace industry believe that it was actually an advanced space fighter or space warfare spacecraft.
Shenlong ( pinyin: shén lóng; literally: "divine dragon") is a prototype Chinese robotic spaceplane that is similar to the American Boeing X-37. Only a few pictures have appeared since it was revealed in late 2007.
The academic models shown in 2000 reveal a delta winged spaceplane with a single vertical stabilizer, equipped with three high-expansion engines. Presuming a seating arrangement of two crew members sitting side-by-side in the cockpit, dimensions could be very roughly estimated as a wingspan of 8 m, a length of 12 m and a total mass of 12 tonnes. This is within the payload capability of the Chinese CZ-2E(A) or Type A launch vehicles.
Images of an aerodynamic scaled model, ready to be launched from under the fuselage of a H-6K bomber, were first published in the Chinese media on 11 December 2007. Code named Project 863-706, the Chinese name of this spacecraft was revealed as "Shenlong Space Plane" . These images, possibly taken in late 2005, show the vehicle's black reentry heat shielding, indicating a reusable design, and its engine assembly. Analysts reported on a late 2006 Chinese test flight of what is believed to be a scramjet demonstrator, possibly related to the Shenlong vehicle.
China's Shenlong space development used the H-6 to launch experiments. As of 2007, the CAS academician Zhuang Fenggan said that a first test flight of the spaceplane would be conducted during the "Eleventh Five-Year Plan", meaning from 2006 to 2010. The first sub-orbital flight of the Shenlong reportedly took place on 8 January 2011. In January 2011, a number of Chinese media reported that China's "Dragon" space flight test success. "Dragon" is a major model of aviation major aircraft across the atmosphere demonstration prototype.
Over the next two years, China accelerated the development of space vehicles. It has been proposed that the vehicle is fitted with a Russian-designed D-30K turbofan engine for initial flight tests. This would obviously not provide enough power to reach Low Earth orbit. A larger Shenlong model would be capable of carrying a payload to orbit.
There is another space plane in China, a "spacecraft landing high-speed return landing". "Eagle" No. 1, developed by China, is a trans-atmosphere orbit aircraft. In September 2013, "Eagle" conducted the first free flight test, which was a success.
Some analysts suggested that Shenlong's 2011 test reflected a shrinking time gap between when the US first reveals a prototype military system and when China publicly shows a system comparable in type (if not equivalent in capabilities or immediately operational). For previous aerospace developments, China typically revealed its systems' existence at least 15 years after the US first showed its analogous platforms.
At a minimum, Shenlong appeared to be a technological development / validation program. A successful Chinese spaceplane program would have some strategic implications. At least for now, "Dragon" was more a technology demonstration project designed to verify its feasibility. If the project is successful, it would convey two important strategic information.
First, on the broad level, it would signify that the Chinese space program has come one step closer to being able to build a Space Shuttle-type capability. On a related note, further test flights, particularly if they involve X-37B- style maneuvering by a larger derivative of Shenlong, would also strongly suggest that China's command and control system for space assets had become much more capable, with commensurate implications for both military and civil space operations.
Which service would control Shenlong remains uncertain,the PLA Air Force (the PLAAF), and the even The Second Artillery contend for Control of Operational Space Assets - and some Chinese Thinkers argue for the formation of a separate Space Force. Not surprisingly, PLAAF-connected writers are already citing spaceplane development as yet another reason why their service should handle space operations.
Second, spaceplanes might [or might not] confer a number of capabilities that conventional launchers can not offer. First of all, they are reusable and their payloads can be changed between missions. These features offer versatility and may even offer some cost savings, especially for reconnaissance missions. Rocket boosters for putting a spaceplane in orbit might cost ~ US150-200 million.
Spaceplane costs also include the spaceplane itself ( with robust structure and shielding), extensive post-flight refurbishment, integration costs, possible manpower costs for flying the spaceplane, payload costs, and recovery costs. Launching a relatively small satellite with a spaceplane as opposed to on a single-use rocket may not realize large costs savings, but it is an option that Chinese planners would likely want to have available eventually.
Another important point is the space plane project itself, the new technology can expose a lot of issues involved in conventional transmission is difficult, the body's use of recyclable, its payload can be free to change depending on the task, these new features will provide a variety of aerospace aircraft the mission capability, and can even save costs, particularly in the field of military reconnaissance. The cost of a rocket into orbit for a space plane is about $ 150 ~ 200 million, while the cost of aerospace aircraft include its own (rugged body and protective capacity), maintenance renovation work, a variety of integrated additional costs, possible human resource input costs, the cost of loading and preparing to launch the task once again the costs.
Larger future iterations of Shenlong could materially enhance China's space-based C4ISR capabilities through both on-board sensor systems and the ability to deploy microsatellites and other sensor systems that boost spacesituational awareness. Spaceplanes can also rapidly change orbits to hinder tracking, survey different areas, or potentially avoid an opponent's anti-satellite (ASAT) systems. During its maiden flight, the X-37B was said to have changed orbits, confounding amateur spotters for several days until one located the craft in its new orbital path.
Johnson-Freese told Leonard David in Novemer 2011 that US interest in such technology dates back to the Air Force DynaSoar program in the 1950s. “But that program was canceled for several reasons, including nobody knew what exactly it would be useful for that couldn’t be done by other means … though it has been suggested recently that it would provide additional ‘global strike’ capability..”
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