China is developing a reusable spacecraft designed to perform a variety of tasks, including military ones – attacks by foreign space vehicles, space stations and even the interception of ballistic missiles. In addition, a reusable spaceplane can be used to transport people and cargo into orbit. At the same time, its launch and landing can be carried out from any conventional airport, according to the local Chinese news channel CCTV.
“Unlike missiles that require a complex processing procedure, the spaceplane can make a real revolution in the field of space transportation,” said Zhang Hongwen, president of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), responsible for the development.
Despite the fact that the project is at an early stage, experts note that the spaceplane can be used as a vehicle for delivering space tourists to orbit, launching satellites, supplying orbital stations, and providing rescue operations.
“It can also be used as a military spacecraft equipped with detection and attack devices against foreign spacecraft, satellites and space stations,” military expert and TV commentator Son Zhongpyin told the Global Times.
In addition, Son added, the device can be used to intercept ballistic missiles and strike point hits on ground targets.
In the CCTV report, journalists told that the complex will consist of two parts: a “mother” carrier aircraft and the spaceplane itself. The medium will be unmanned and used to disperse the spaceplane, after which it will separate and use its own power unit. After completing the mission, the spaceplane will return to Earth and land as an ordinary aircraft.
Some foreign experts note that China currently does not have the necessary technologies to create such a complex. First of all, we are talking about engines: both for the spaceplane, and for the carrier aircraft. Obviously, none of the engines available in China currently meet the requirements of the project.
However, one of the military experts, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Global Times that the technology of a hybrid air-jet engine using liquid hydrogen fuel will be at the heart of the powerplant of the carrier aircraft. In such an engine, oxygen, taken from the atmosphere, will go into a liquid state and feed a power plant with a couple of liquid hydrogen. In theory, such a system will allow us to develop a speed that is up to 22 times faster than the speed of sound, providing sufficient acceleration for the spacecraft to be launched into space. Equipped with this engine, the carrier aircraft, said the source, it will be very difficult to intercept the current air defense systems.
The project for the development of this system is called “Tengyun”, and for the first time it became known in 2016. At that time, Vice President of CASIC Corporation Liu Shijiang said that the system would be ready for flight by 2030.