BEIJING: China on Friday successfully launched a reusable experimental spacecraft whose mission details have been kept secret, according to media reports.
The spacecraft was launched on a
carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
After a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to a predetermined landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space, it said.
However, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that the space mission has been shrouded in secrecy.
Quoted an official memo circulating on social media, the Post said staffers and visitors to the launch site have been warned against filming the lift-off and even discussing it online.
The document also says "all units should strengthen personnel security education and personnel management during missions to ensure that there is no leakage of secrets."
A Chinese military source said "there are many firsts in this launch. The spacecraft is new, the launch method is different. That's why we need to make sure there is extra security."
The official declined to comment on the details of the mission but suggested "maybe you can take a look at the US X-37B".
The X-37B is an unmanned space plane that operates like a smaller version of the Space Shuttle, which is launched by a rocket and cruises back to earth for a runway landing.
It has flown four classified missions to date, carrying secret payloads on long-duration flights in Earth orbit, the Post report said.
Friday's launch comes weeks after China launched Tianwen-1, the country's first Mars mission, from Hainan in late July.
The China National Space Administration said its spacecraft, including an orbiter, lander and rover, was performing well on its way to Mars.
A month before that, China completed the network of satellites for its BeiDou navigation network, a competitor to the Global Positioning System (GPS) system of the US.