China appears to be been developing a new kind of spacecraft and China's space agency reportedly aims to launch its secretive and futuristic spaceplane in 2020. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) is rumoured to have been working on developing a spaceplane for over a decade.
Now, China could likely be the first country close to achieving a fully functional and new type of spacecraft. Local reports citing a recent announcement from China's space agency claim that the futuristic spaceplane has been designed to land horizontally and take off from a runway before shooting off into orbital space.
CASTC researcher Chen Hongbo said that the spacecraft will "fly into the sky like an aircraft," Xinhua reported. The spacecraft has reportedly been designed to shift to ramjet propulsion after take-off, before eventually switching to rocket motors as it leaves Earth's atmosphere and enters into space.
In June, CASTC vice director Liu Shiquan said that the space agency was developing its own "reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally," ArsTechnica reported. The official was also reported as saying that the space agency had already completed several ground tests. According to Chen the reusable spaceplane will also be easier to maintain and improve the frequency of launches at a lower cost than current spacecrafts.
In the event that China is successful in launching its reusable spacecraft, it could be the first to launch a spacecraft without depending on a rocket. If successful, the spacecraft would also be the first-ever winged vehicle to enter into orbital space.
China's intended spaceplane launch is in line with the nation's ambitious plans to boost its space presence. Beijing has previously indicated that it also intends to have an Earth-orbiting space station by the early 2020s. China also wants to launch a lunar mission next year and is believed to be in talks with the European Space Agency (ESA) to collaborate on building a "Moon village".