China launched covert spy plane into orbit as rival US craft hit delay

The NEW space race: China launches top-secret military plane into orbit just one day after US’ delayed mystery launch – and Space Force chief says timing is ‘no coincidence’

  • Space Force said it’s ‘extremely interested’ in China’s covert CSSHQ spacecraft
  • Pics of this Chinese rival to Space Force’s classified X-37B craft have yet to leak
  • READ MORE: Secret unmanned US spaceship, X-37B, causes chaos as it lands in Florida with residents fearing it was UFO — after its sonic boom rocked houses

China successfully launched its top secret, unmanned spacecraft Thursday evening, which the US Space Force chief said was ‘no coincidence.’

The US had planned to launch its ‘spy’ plan on Wednesday, but the mission was grounded due to technical issues.

‘It’s probably no coincidence that they’re trying to match us in timing and sequence of this,’ General Chance Saltzman, Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations, said. 

An announcement in the Chinese press described the purpose of the space plane as providing ‘technical support for the peaceful use of space’ – but the nation has kept details under wraps, as has American officials about their craft.

China successfully launched its top secret, unmanned spacecraft — the Asian superpower’s answer to the US Space Force’s own X-37B unmanned, covert spaceplane — into orbit for the third time this past Thursday. Its purpose: ‘technical support for the peaceful use of space’

But the current Chief of Space Operations for US Space Force, General Chance Saltzman (above), told reporters that the timing appeared linked to the cancelation of America’s plan to relaunch the X-37B back into space for another classified mission this past Monday

‘These are the two of the most watched objects on orbit while they’re on orbit,’ Saltzman told reporters on Wednesday after trouble with a SpaceX rocket scuttled Monday’s planned X-37B launch.

Speaking at the Space Force Association’s Spacepower Conference in Orlando, General Saltzman emphasized the sophistication of these unmanned and reusable orbital spycrafts, which can offer greater operational security than spy satellites.

‘The ability to put something into orbit, do some things, and bring it home and take a look at the results is powerful,’ Saltzman said. 

‘It’s no surprise that the Chinese are extremely interested in our spaceplane,’ he said. ‘And we’re extremely interested in theirs.’ 

Nevertheless — despite years of promo photos of America’s Boeing-designed X-37B covert spacecraft — no images of its Chinese rival have leaked to the public.

The closest media has come to seeing the craft, dubbed the Chinese reusable experimental spacecraft, or CSSHQ, may likely have been footage of an exhibit at the Henan Jiyuan No.1 middle school in China in August of 2022.

Video of the exhibit, an outdoor display of a crashed Long March 2F rocket responsible for launching the CSSHQ into orbit, was poured over by aerospace industry watchers for clues about its one-time covert spycraft payload. 

Images of this Long March 2F wreckage, recovered from the second CSSHQ launch, bolstered rumors that the rocket’s payload capacity of nearly eight metric tons would indicate that CSSHQ is similar in size to the X-37B, according to SpaceNews.

The video appeared first on China’s Sina Weibo social media site, then TikTok, YouTube and X.

The closest media has come to seeing China’s secret spacecraft, dubbed the Chinese reusable experimental spacecraft, or CSSHQ, may likely have been footage of an exhibit at a middle school in China in 2022 – posted first to China’s Sina Weibo social media site, then X (above)

This Thursday’s CSSHQ launch comes hot on the heels of its last covert mission seven months ago: a lengthy 276-day operation that began on August 4, 2022.

By comparison, CSSHQ’s first launch, in September 2020, lasted only two days.

According to a report by China’s Xinhua News Agency, this third launch aims to conduct ‘reusable technology verification’ and ‘space science experiments’ as part of ‘technical support for the peaceful use of space.’ 

The launch of the CSSHQ encased in a Long March 2F rocket, occurred at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center based in northwestern China. 

The US Space Force ‘spy’ space shuttle X-37B (above)  was due to launch by SpaceX as part of a classified mission Monday but was forced to stand down minutes before it was due to take off

Once a US Air Force project, the X-37B can theoretically carry weapons into space, possibly to defend US satellites against anti-satellite weapons. China and Russia have accused the US of using the craft as a bomber. X-37B has been performing its classified missions since 2010

The original purpose for the Long March 2F was transport for Chinese astronaut crews headed into Earth’s orbit, but the rocket has been modified to carry China’s unpiloted robotic spaceplane as its payload.

The X-37B was due to be launched by SpaceX as part of a classified mission Monday, but it was forced to stand down just minutes before it took off.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket bearing the covert spacecraft was scheduled to take off at 8:14pm ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

But a reported ‘ground issue’ resulted in the mission being axed at the eleventh hour.

‘Standing down from tonight’s Falcon Heavy launch due to a ground side issue,’ a statement from SpaceX said.

‘Vehicle and payload remain healthy. The team is resetting for the next launch opportunity of the USSF-52 mission, which is no earlier than tomorrow night.’

Monday’s mission would have been the secretive X-37B’s seventh since it debuted in 2010, and most of the craft’s payload is classified.

The X-37B can theoretically carry weapons into space, possibly to defend US satellites against anti-satellite weapons.

While China and Russia have accused the US of using the craft as a bomber, other experts have speculated that the Space Force craft is used to run spy missions: Keep an eye on Chinese space operations or test US reconnaissance systems.


The US Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane has flown a number of secret missions to date.

Each time it has carried a mystery payload on long-duration flights in Earth orbit.

The spacecraft looks similar to Nasa’s space shuttle but is much smaller. The X-37B is about 29ft (8.8m) long and 9.5ft (2.9 m) tall.

Like a shuttle, X-37B is blasted into orbit by a rocket. However, it lands using a runway like a normal aircraft. The X-37B is too small to carry people onboard, but does have a cargo bay similar to that of a pickup truck, which is just large enough to carry a small satellite

It has a wingspan of just less than 15ft (4.6 m). At launch, it weighs 11,000lbs (4,990kg).

The craft is taken into orbit on a rocket but lands like the space shuttle by gliding down to Earth.

Its main mission payload is a mystery, although Nasa has revealed it has a hauled a number of materials experiments aboard into space.

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