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China's Mystery Space Plane Project Stirs Up Questions

China's Shenlong prototype spaceplane being carried by an H-6 bomber. Credit: Photo courtesy of Space.com

As the next secretive flight of the U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B mini-shuttle draws closer, analysts are keeping a close eye on China’s own potential space plane, the Shenlong.

Last year several Chinese media outlets reported a test flight of the Shenlong space plane that apparently included its airdrop  from an H-6 bomber. But the nature of the Shenlong project's testing, as well as what the robot vehicle truly represents, remains sketchy.

Several China watchers in the U.S. have taken a stab at what the Shenlong (Mandarin for "Divine Dragon) might mean, with some experts conjecturing that the craft is simply a tit-for-tat response to the unmanned X-37B space plane.

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