A Chinese space plane has just launched six mysterious objects into orbit

On its third mission, China’s Shenlong robotic space plane has added a new layer of excitement to its space activities by deploying six unidentified objects into Earth’s orbit.

“Xinlong” means “divine dragon” She embarked on her third mission on 14 DecemberIt successfully deployed six objects into orbit soon after. These objects are currently being tracked by both US Space Force and amateur observers. The items, which appear to emit different signals, are designated OBJECT A, B, C, D, E, and F by the US Department of Defense (official NORAD TLE designations are 58573 to 58577 and 58581).

Scott Tilley, an amateur astronomer and satellite tracker, has closely analyzed these objects mentioned He posted his findings to Space.com. Object A, in particular, was emitting signals reminiscent of “wingman” emissions from previous Chinese spaceplane missions. These signals, which are characterized by limited data modification, indicate a possible link to China’s previous space activities. Interestingly, objects D and E emit data-free, passive “placeholder” signals. Furthermore, these signals tend to be intermittent and do not last long, according to Tilly.

The unique nature of these signals, particularly their modulation at 2,280 MHz (a frequency previously associated with Chinese spaceplane missions), and their appearance near the objects’ expected orbital paths, has led trackers like Tele to confidently associate these signals with the newly launched satellite. He wanted.

“In short, this iteration of the Chinese spaceplane mission launched into a similar orbit as the others, but operationally exhibits different radio behavior than before,” Tilly told Space.com. “The additional observations of emissions from OBJECT D and E are new, but It was also possible to miss previous tasks if they were also intermittent.

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In the next few days, observers should watch for close encounters between Object A, in a near-circular orbit, and Objects D and E, which are in elliptical orbits. Tilly said that these objects are expected to approach each other at perihelion, which is the closest point in their orbits.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before. During previous spaceplane missions, in September 2020 and August 2022, Shenlong launched similar unidentified objects into orbit. Speculation by Space news It is suggested that these objects could be service modules, inspection satellites to track spacecraft, or test elements to put them into orbit. In November last year, the Chinese space plane Another mysterious being was releasedIt is likely to be a potential service module to help return the spacecraft to Earth.

In parallel with China’s activities, the United States operates its own reusable robotic spaceplane, the X-37B manufactured by Boeing. US Space Force Plans To launch the X-37B aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on December 28, after several delays.

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