China Working on Reusable Space Plane, Low-Cost Launches & Satellite Constellation

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced last week that it plans to launch a reusable space plane capable of taking off and landing on a runway around the year 2020.

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.

Chinese officials had first announced the existence of the program back in June.

“We 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.

“[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.

CASC, which is the main contractor for China’s space program, also outlined its plans for the years ahead at a conference last week. The plans include:

  • small booster launches costing $5,000 per kg with launch preparation reduced to one week;
  • sun synchronous launches costing $5,000 to $6,000 per kg with launch preparation taking only 10 days;
  • medium- to high-orbit launches at a cost of $8,000 to $10,000 per kg using reusable Long March boosters;
  • a mobile broadband satellite Internet constellation consisting of more than 300 satellites to be launched around 2026;
  • a constellation of commercial remote sensing satellites for civilian and military use; and,
  • a new spacecraft assembly, integration and testing center in Huairou that will be open to domestic and international users.