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China's Mysterious Robotic Spacecraft is in the air.

ScienceChina's Mysterious Robotic Spacecraft is in the air.

China's third test mission of a robotic vehicle has caused speculation due to the fact that it has cast into space half a dozen small objects. The experimental orbital plane was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Thursday 14 December atop a Long March 2F rocket, before falling into a low altitude similar to previous test missions run back in September 2020 and August 2022. The objects were likely to be small Chinese-developed Banxing satellites used previously to relay images of other spacecraft. The objects on X are referred to as "mysterious wingmen" by amateur astronomer Scott Tilley. OBJECT D is emitting intermittently on S-band using the same modulation as OBJECT A. Scott Tilley is associated withcoastal8049).

"OBJECT A's emission is reminiscent of earlier Chinese space plane 'wingman' emissions in the sense that the signal is modulated with a limited amount of data," Tilley said in an email. OBJECT D and OBJECT E presented signals without any data, which made them appear to be placeholders. Though acknowledging that satellite trackers may have missed signals in previous missions, Tilley is confident that there is something different about this mission. "There are close encounters between OBJECT A and OBJECTs D and E," he said. The US is no doubt quietly watching what China does with its space plane, even though amateur astronomer around the world share their theories. Boeing's X-37B is similar to China's Shenlong, it's secrecy in development, and it has a lot in common with the other. There are few details on its purpose or capabilities at this stage, starting with NASA's X-37 project at the end of the last century before becoming a US Department of Defense project in 2004. With another X-37B test flight in the works for December 28, there's little doubt that two of the world's largest spacefaring nations are paying close attention to each other's new toys while keeping their own well-guarded.

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