When Space Planes Come to Town
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And now China appears to be developing its own space plane, which is a miniature version of the USAF X-37B, which is itself a miniature version of the retired US Space Shuttle.
“Shenlong is China’s effort to develop a re-entering aerodynamic spacecraft, similar to the space shuttle or the X-37B but much smaller than either,” said Mark Gubrud of Princeton University. “However, the economic rationale for the shuttle was never realized, and it is not clear what advantages the X-37B offers the U.S. military over conventional upper stages, satellite buses and re-entry capsules.” _China Mystery Space PlaneIn China, everything has a secondary military purpose, even the putative "civil" space program. But the mini-spaceplane is likely to be a pure military program. At this point it is certain to be in full catch-up mode, in an attempt not to let western space efforts get too far out in front.
Cheng said numerous scientific conferences held in China during 1988-92 saw debate about what the manned space program vehicle should look like. "Given regular People’s Liberation Army writings about the importance of space-to-ground military operations in the future, something like an X-43 [an unmanned experimental hypersonic aircraft] or X-37B would also have appeal, as a likely pathway for military purposes," Cheng said. _Space Plane China Military
Space is the military high ground, from which rocks can be thrown down the gravity well at anyone and anything. It is not surprising that China would see a military benefit in designing a VTHL spacecraft for its own strategic military reasons.