HONG KONG • China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally the way planes do, reported local media.
The so-called spaceplane is being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (Casic) as part of Beijing's ambitious space programme.
The aim is for it to carry both astronauts and cargo to and from space missions, said Mr Liu Shiquan, vice-president of Casic, at a press conference earlier this week.
Research on reusable vessels, which can carry cargo into space, is proceeding smoothly and will be tested in 2019, Mr Liu added, according to Global Times.
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Chinese reports say the reusable space vehicles will allow astronauts to orbit, land and take off multiple times with minimal repairs and at a relatively low cost.
Experts said the spaceplane, if successful, would also give China an edge over other countries in the space race.
"This is a milestone development. It means that China may be catching up with the United States in the space race, and is trying to get ahead," said Professor Zhang Tao, a scientist at Beihang University in Beijing, to South China Morning Post.
News of the project comes after the US Air Force landed its experimental X-37B spaceplane in Florida last month, its fourth orbital test flight. Its main objective, the US military said, was to develop reusable spacecraft technology.