Orbital Focus - International Spaceflight Facts and Figures
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Launches and Orbital Operations

Tyneside, UK
2023 Jun 7
Wednesday, Day 158

Curated by:

Mission Events 2022:

Mission Events 2021:

Mission Events 2020:



Chinese Spaceplane - Potential Landing



China's spaceplane was launched 2022 August 8 into a 50° inclined orbit where it conducted a number of manoeuvres. It released a small satellite towards the end of October, conducting mutual chase-down and rendezvous manoeuvres with it, re-capturing it at least once. Finally, around the end of 2023 March, it apparently stowed it back on board before manoeuvering to a lower orbit ready for return to Earth. Precisely nine months after launch, many things have come together that point to a possible landing May 4 on the runway at Lop Nor.

NOTE - as yet, there is no indication from China that return to Earth is planned but this blog entry points out that conditions are 'right' for the event.

Solar Lighting Conditions

The spaceplane flew an earlier, short, test mission in 2020. It resulted in a touch down on Lop Nor runway 05 at approximately 02:00 UTC (08:00 local time). The ground track for 2023 May 5 also leads to landing at about 02:00 UTC. It means that lighting conditions on orbit and at atmosphere re-entry will be similar to the earlier mission. Retro-fire will be deep in the Earth's shadow (about 22:00 local time). Re-entry will start to occur at about the time the spaceplane exits the shadow with the run-in and landing in full daylight.

Ground Track

Retro-fire will be in view of both the ground station near Santiago, Chile and the Yuan Wang 5 tracking ship - stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the south-west coast of South America.

It is known that China has tracking ability from Santiago as it is routinely used to monitor GEO launches out of Xichang and Wenchang. It has a good view of of the ascending leg of their transfer orbits.

After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the spaceplane will come into view of Hartsbeethoek in South Africa. China may have tracking capability from there. Next up is Malindi. Again. this is a station that has been known to join China's tracking net in the past, particularly in support of Shenzhou re-entries.

Yuan Wang 7 is stationed in the Arabian Sea, off the Arabian peninsula. It will have the opportunity to track the spaceplane as it hits the atmosphere at the start of re-entry. If the station at Karachi (also known to be used for Shenzhou re-entries) in Pakistan is active, it will continue the re-entry monitoring before the vehicle comes into view of mainland Chinese tracking stations.

Finally, the track is almost perfectly aligned with the Lop Nor runway. A small amount of aerodynamic steering should lead to a landing on the centre line.

Mission Notes

Details of the mission so far can be found in the Orbital Focus launch list for 2022.

The 2020 mission can be found the launch list for 2020.

Page Date - 2023 May 3

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