The United States is concerned that China’s purported assessments of the hypersonic orbital glide vehicle will fuel an intensifying arms race. These were ordinary space test flights, not a display of the new military weapon; the Chinese authorities declared this week. Experts agree that these experiments demonstrate China’s significant breakthroughs in reusable space technology in one way or another. To be sure, a spacecraft that orbits the Earth rejoins the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds and glides to its envisioned target area isn’t exactly cutting-edge technology, according to Robert Bakos. He works as the co-owner and principal of Innoveering, a firm that focuses on hypersonic propulsion technology.
“The Space Shuttle was built in the United States, and we possess the X-37B spaceplane, which can be classified as a hypersonic system since it returns from space at extremely high speeds,” he explained. According to Bakos, what appears to be very new is the Chinese vehicle’s capacity to manoeuvre upon reentry in previously unseen ways, who added that he has no firsthand knowledge of what Chinese assessed and that his remarks are based on publicly available information.
Bakos pointed out that the X-37 isn’t an exceptionally maneuverable spacecraft. NASA’s Space Shuttle landed “nearly like a rock, gliding down extremely plopping and steeply on the runway” after returning from space. The spacecraft was able to maneuver as it returned from the space into the atmosphere, as per media reports on China’s experiments, “and be more assertive in regards of its cross range,” he claimed. “In terms of technology, that would be novel.”
“In and of itself, that would be a highly substantial demonstration, not insignificant by any means,” Bakos added if the Chinese government’s explanation that this was purely a reusable space vehicle technological demonstration is believed. It would be disturbing if China’s vehicle, after reentering, “maneuvered in some way which a regular spaceship does not.” However, he added that it’s impossible to tell whether this was a warhead or even a nuclear-warhead delivery mechanism being tested without viewing the test data.
“It’s quite exciting if you watch a vehicle perform a hard left spin at high speed,” Bakos said, “since that’s hard to achieve with a conventional space vehicle.” “Aerodynamically, they’re not built to have that capability.”
Bakos’ assessment of the Chinese hypersonic vehicle test follows other academics’ caution about jumping to conclusions. “This is no Sputnik occasion,” James Acton, co-director of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s nuclear policy program, said. “Partly because it’s not fully obvious what was tested, but primarily because the fear of a Chinese nuclear assault on the United States isn’t remotely novel.”