• Spaceplanes are airplane-spacecraft hybrids
  • The object may have been ejected between Oct. 24 to 30
  • China has shared very little information about the spaceplane

In continuation with the mystery around China's secretive spaceplane mission, a new development has occurred. China's spaceplane is said to have ejected an unknown object into a low-earth orbit.

On Monday, the United States Space Force's 18th Space Defense Squadron monitored an object in a similar orbit to China's spaceplane, SpaceNews reported. The object was so close to the spaceplane that the Space Force unit had to be sure it was a separate object before it was entered into the database.

The object may have been ejected between Oct. 24 to 30, but it was officially added to the database on Oct. 31, according to a tweet by Robert Christy from Orbital Focus.

This is not the first instance of the spacecraft ejecting an object. Previously, China's spaceplane had released an object near the end of its first, two-day mission in September 2020. Reportedly, the object had broadcast S-band transmissions for weeks.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, proposed that the released object might be a service module. The purpose of such an object is to carry support systems for its companion spacecraft.

Mcdowell also suggested that the three-month mission may finally be coming to an end. The ejection may be "possibly indicating an upcoming deorbit burn," he tweeted Monday.

The spaceplane's orbit flies it over a landing site at Lop Nur base in Xinjiang every three days, according to SpaceNews. Incidentally, Lop Nur was the landing site for China's first similar spaceplane mission that landed on Sept. 6, 2020.

The spaceplane since its launch in August this year may have released other objects into space. Tracking data from the Space Defense Squadron opined that at least one or two objects may be inspector satellites surveilling the spacecraft, according to Space News.

There has been a lot of mystery surrounding China's spaceplane project. Launched on Aug. 4, state media reported the spaceplane as a classified payload onboard a Long March 2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Moreover, very little information about the spaceplane has been shared by China, except that it would stay in orbit for a "period of time."

Spaceplanes are airplane-spacecraft hybrids that work like normal aircraft in Earth's atmosphere and switch to working like an orbiting spacecraft once it reaches space.

The experimental vehicle is the work of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, a state-owned company that manufactures both civilian and military space launch vehicles.

The U.S. Space Force has the Boeing X-37, a spaceplane that was launched in May 2020 for its sixth test flight. The spaceplane has been in orbit ever since.

Space Plane
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on an "Experimental Spaceplane" that will launch satellites into space efficiently. DARPA