For the last decade rumors have been swirling about China’s development of a top-secret spaceplane. However, according to a statement from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, this reusable spacecraft appears to be ready for launch in 2020.
The Chinese Aerospace division appears to be promising what can only be described as ground-breaking technological advances. Their teased spacecraft will reportedly take off from a runway and then, when reaching high altitudes, it will deploy ramjets to propel itself even faster before transitioning to the use of rocket motors. These rocket motors will allow the spacecraft to exit Earth’s atmosphere, and fill forgo the need for external boosters. In comparison to NASA’s now defunct space shuttle, this would presumably also allow the craft to avoid using the massive fuel tanks NASA employed. Its design also means that the spacecraft would be able to take off from any runway within continental China, and that it would not need a dedicated launch pad such as the one NASA employs at the Kennedy Space Center.
Though NASA originally intended for their space shuttle to take off from from a runway, they ultimately abandoned the plan due to the need to refurbish both the spacecraft and its engines between flights. This said, engineering and composite material design have come a long way since the 1970’s, so it’s possible that modern designs can eliminate or reduce the need for constant repairs.
Though private US companies such as VirginGalactic and XCOR have been pursuing the development of these spaceplanes, nothing has come to fruition and prototypes have only been able to perform suborbital flights. If China is able to deliver on their promises, they’ll manage to have bested not only private US companies, but NASA as well.