China will launch a reusable spaceplane in 2020

China plans to launch its reusable spaceplane in 2020, according to a statement from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Unlike traditional one-off spacecraft, the new spacecraft will fly into the sky like an aircraft, said Chen Hongbo, a researcher from the corporation.
The spacecraft can transport people or payload into the orbit and return to Earth.

Chen said that the spacecraft will be easier to maintain and can improve the frequency of launches at lower cost, bringing new opportunities for more people to travel into space.

“Currently, China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally. They have already finished several crucial ground tests for engines and [other key components], yielding remarkable achievements,” Liu Shiquan, vice director of the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC), told media at the Global Space Exploration Conference in Beijing.

According to media reports, the reusable space vehicles will allow astronauts to orbit, land and take off multiple times with minimal repairs and for a relatively low cost, offering easier access to Earth’s orbit.

“[We] have made new progress in developing stable solid launch vehicles, making it possible to contemplate the large-scale launch of commercial space vehicles. Meanwhile, research on the recovery of space cargo is also going smoothly,” said Liu.

According to Liu, CASIC has been developing a multi-layer information network, with a platform consisting of high-altitude solar drones, near-space aerostats and low-earth orbit satellites and ground equipment, which are expected to be available for use around 2020.

49 thoughts on “China will launch a reusable spaceplane in 2020”

  1. China could save itself a lot of time, effort and trouble by ordering copies of the “Summary Report USAF/NASA Manned Space Flight Studies,” report TOR-0059 (6531-01)-1, dated 8/21/1970 (from Los Angeles-based The Aerospace Corp. – or NASA HQ probably has a copy), and review the Reusable Aerospace Passenger Transport studies – OF 1962! 😉

  2. I don’t see why this would be something hard to achieve. Most of the stuff here is 50-20 year old technology.

    The 1st version seem to be an inverted variation of space shuttle, where the recoverable part is the “airplane”, which works as the 1st stage. That would save money in refurbishment since there wouldn’t be so much aggressive shear.

    The 2nd version improves on the 1st by Aerospike engine in the 2nd stage. It was successfully tested and I don’t see why China couldn’t also do that.

    The 3rd version seems to use aerosopike in the 1st stage and HOTOL in the 2nd.

  3. Another way to detect paid trolls is too see ordinary comments with unexpectedly high number of up votes placing such comments to the top position. It will also tell you about the number of paid Russian trolls working on this site cooperatively. So looking at scaryjello’s ordinary comment with 15 up votes tells you the trolls are using at LEAST 15 accounts.

  4. If they do this they’ll be making the same mistake as the US did post-Apollo.

    So much for the Chinese being smarter than Americans.

  5. Both the Russians and Chinese have been making some grand claims about space travel but we are yet to see any concrete results from either.

    The only real work being done which we know about is by Musk and co.

  6. The world of SSTO space planes is a small one that is very much driven by ISP and materials. There are really only a few options:

    1. Hypersonic air breathers of some variety (scramjets, ramjets, Skylon, etc).
    2. HydroLox rockets with super light materials (VentureStar)
    3. Something nuclear powered.
    4. Beamed power.
    5. PPT fantasies.

    I’ll be charitable and go with #1 and propose that they have a nice ramjet engine. Why they are doing this when everyone else seems to be thinking about making reusable rockets with “mundane” parts and technology is beyond me but I suppose you need to promise the moon to get the R&D money.

      • This, and it makes perfect sense.
        SSTO does not make sense, well an ground launched orion pulse nuclear would probably work well.
        Skylon might work for light cargo and passengers if engines works as well as they hope and you don’t get weight increases (yes that is likely)

  7. So from the pictures it seems that their second iteration is going to launch a Venture Star as the second stage.

    • Looks suspiciously close, doesn’t it? hence my feeling of being looking at old magazines. They should at least have used Dyna-SOAR as model (less chance of being detected as a copycat).

      But it may be coincidence. Right.

      • Problem is that the upper stage shuttle has no room for fuel. Venture star is an 3rd stage not second. same with dynasoar.
        First design is plausible.

        • Venture Star’s design had plenty of fuel storage, given it was a SSTO proposal.

          But Dyna-SOAR was indeed mostly a payload to be on top a Titan heavy rocket. I was been facetious while suggesting that the creators of the slides should have used a less known space plane to copy its design from.

          About the soundness of the proposal, I agree the first one seems more plausible. But that’s basically a regular rocket mounted on an airplane. And that scheme is known to work in expendable mode, only reusing the airplane.

          Any space plane proposal that works should at least look as if it could store the fuel to launch itself to orbit. So, the Venture Star copycat looks more like it.

    • Why? Because China claims they’re making a spaceplane that will have difficulty meeting its stated milestones? Nah, the US likes old space and the flashy new space (SpaceX and Blue Origin) – they won’t increase spending on Sabre in reaction to this.

  8. Keep buying China people, This is what happens when the richest nation on Earth Transfers it wealth and Industry Know the Chinese who hate us and the Middle East who hate us have the oil production and the Industry to produce and the cash because all the products we use we have to buy from them. And for those that read history like WW2 those who can produce the most and have the most $$ Win. I feel sorry for our children

    • China doesn’t hate us. This space plane loses against SpaceX and Blue Origin. It looks like this transports a handful of people to LEO. SpaceX and Blue plan to have vehicles that can transport 100+ people to LEO cheaply in the next decade – and they have the money and technical backing to achieve it.

      • Spaceplanes, beyond their complexity, also lose compared to the new generation of rockets because they can’t go anywhere but to LEO and down.

        Without a significant payload capacity and strong compromises due to their very design (they have to fly and land on a runway), they are stuck in LEO. They are a solution to a problem we don’t have: sending people to some facility in space, which we have to launch and build how?

        This is the same trap the USA fell with the Shuttle.

        While rockets are made to live in space with little consideration if there is an atmosphere where they go. They can use it, but the designers can simply consider it another challenge in the way. If they are made to land on Earth, they can do it pretty much everywhere where we would like to land.

        Reusable rockets that can land are natural carriers of stuff to far away destinations, much more than just LEO.

    • You fully deserve what is happening
      You have murdered and help murdering millions

      Now you are paying the price
      Thank you

    • Yep, because having a slideshow made with ideas floating since around 50+ years is the step right behind having a working spaceship.

      I felt for a moment that I was reading an old (early 60s) Time magazine and on of its classic trans-atmospheric airplane articles.

      But if this is somehow happening sometime in the 2020s, good. The scheme of launching stuff to space on rockets mounted on airplanes has been proven several times and a spaceplane being launched that way may be actually interesting.

      I only doubt it happens in 2020, specifically.

    • Another way to detect paid trolls is too see ordinary comments with unexpectedly high number of up votes placing such comments to the top position. It will also tell you about the number of paid Russian trolls working on this site cooperatively. So looking at scaryjello’s ordinary comment with 16 up votes tells you the trolls are using at LEAST 16 accounts.

      • An alternative explanation for the high number of upvotes is that SJ’s comment is a humorous riff on a theme of complaint that many people have been making about all sorts of space projects for years now.

        • No there is no alternative explanation. Paid trolls discovered about a week ago they can exploit a faulty comment sorting system here that always puts the comment with the most up votes on top even when it’s supposed to put the newest comment on top. It is now a well established trend. But like I said and will continue to say you immediately know who the trolls are and SJ is a known troll and you know how many accounts trolls on this site are using cooperatively for up votes.

    • Make that 23 paid Russian troll accounts, that should open some eyes for people. Russian trolls are so dumb they keep coming up with new ways to expose themselves.

    • Sounds to me like they haven’t even reached the point where you do the 3D renderings. They just have a general idea of what they want to do.

      I’m not going to say that it isn’t a good idea; It’s what Virgin Galactic *should* have been doing. There’s likely a market for reusable space planes with extremely short, airliner style turn arounds. But I’d guess they’re a decade away from flying something manrated.

  9. Not a lot of detail to evaluate there. It says “will be developed”, which suggests to me that they’re not exactly ready to launch. It’s more aspirational.

    • I can believe they have a fairly advanced plan, and also that they do have some parts of it tested. But the same can be said about Skylon.

      There’s a long way from a belieevable design to a working spaceship, as many aborted similar projects at NASA demonstrate. Basically, I doubt this is ready by 2020.

      The quid of the question is the integration of parts into a working model, one evidencing the actual stresses involved with flying an airplane into orbit, something that tends to be the deal breaker in this kind of systems.

      Rockets work well because they are relatively simpler in their aerodynamic interactions and stresses than spaceplanes, but the problem is not impossible to solve, as Boeing’s X-37 demonstrates.

      The actual combination of airplane mounted spaceplanes would be a very interesting one to test, though.

  10. Extraordinary claims require similar caliber evidence.. Chinese space program is not at this level of technology yet so will see…

      • Not in space, with 2 Long March rocket failures this year (An expendable rocket design flown since the 1970s) and their only space station, Tiangong-1 performing an uncontrolled re-entry (crash) within months. Right up there with the Russian Proton.

        The USA? Lets see, Mars Rovers, SpaceX re-usable rockets landing with BFR in planning stages, ULA Atlas and Vulcan, Boeing Starliner, Blue Origin New Glenn, the list goes on.
        Only the US has launched probes past Mars, Voyager, Cassini, Juno, Dawn, New Horizons.

        China’s Lunar rover failed after a month.

        Ok, SLS is a pork project but Europe has those too (ITER anyone?)

        Lookup confirmation bias sometime, you have it bad.

        • Tiangong-1 is NOT the “only space station” of the Chinese.

          Tiangong-2 was launched in 2016.

          For the paranoid, Tiangong is usually translated as “Heavenly Palace” but could also mean “Sky Fortress”.

      • Yeah, no. China is still way behind us in space. Especially with the work SpaceX and Blue Origin have done and are doing. That said, their AI research is world class and is very competitive with ours.

    • Technology its not complex, main issue is that you need an fast an large plane,
      Think an mach 4-6 cargo plane.
      You can use rockets to get up to max speed but this increase weight of carrier a lot.

      Now this is not something you can just pull out of your hat.
      Not in 3 years unless they already started producing part for it.

      • Flow separation at Hypersonic speeds is non-trivial. This particular choice of geometry will make it more difficult than Falcon Heavy.

      • If this technology is not complex, we would have Mach 4-6 cargo planes flying by now. We have not. This technology is nightmarishly complex.

        The engine needs to behave like a turbine jet engine from 0 to Mach 2.5. Then it needs to behave like a ramjet from Mach 2.5 to Mach 4. Then it needs to behave like a Scramjet from Mach 4-6. Nobody has successfully done all that in a single combined-cycle engine yet.

        The SABRE concept has promise and is supposed to do all three (plus a rocket mode using internally-carried oxidizer), but it’s still theoretical at this point and they didn’t even finish building the test facility yet– i.e., nothing working for the Chinese to steal and copy yet. 😛

        I doubt the Chinese is any further along than what REL is researching for SABRE at this point.

    • Agreed. We keep hearing about this stuff from the Chinese and Russians but we’re yet to see any evidence of progress.

      Not too long ago NBF posted an article about a Russian nuclear thermal rocket. Dead silence since then.

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