New Shenlong View: On December 12, 2007 another Chinese web poster offered this computer generated rendering of the Shenlong with a vertical stabilizer, using a curious “trapeze” suspension from an H-6 bomber. It cannot be confirmed that this will be the final configuration for an H-6 launching of the Shenlong. Source: Chinese Interent Within 24 hours of the posting of the initial photo, more apparent details had emerged on Chinese military issue websites. While interesting, much of this data cannot be confirmed in the absence of any official Chinese government, military or corporate disclosures. Nevertheless, various posters have suggested that the Shenlong space craft is a program funded by the famous “863 Program” for dual-use high-technology research established in 1986 to advance China’s military modernization. The Shenlong carries the program number “863-706,” and as such, is likely a PLA-priority program. Other posters revealed that the No. 611 Design Institute usually associated with the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation was involved in some design and testing aspects of the Shenlong. Another poster revealed an article from mid-October 2007 claiming to show the digital control center created by the 611 Institute to test the Shenlong. Mark Wade has noted that the 611 Institute may have gained insights regarding space planes from cooperative programs with France during the 1980s, which was developing the Hermes space plane. Possible 611 Institute Shenlong Control Center: One Chinese web poster states that this facility was created by the 611 Institute to conduct the test flights of the Shenlong. Source: Chinese Internet Another interesting aspect of the Shenlong program is that it provides a rare example of how a state and military funded program is assisted by Chinese technical universities. One web poser revealed that the Nanjing University for Astronautics and Aeronautics (NUAA) was likely involved in devising early digital “computer-aided-design” (CAD) for the spacecraft, which likely used a version of the French Dassault CATIA design software, used throughout China’s military industries. NUAA researchers may have also led the design of the control computer and re-entry control system. Northwest University, which also does extensive 863 Program funded research, is said to have helped design the INS/GPS (Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning Navigation Satellite) control system for the 863-706 program. The Harbin Technical University, a key center for PLA-funded military-technical research, is said to have helped design composite structures for the Shenlong. However, these websites were not clear regarding the status of the Shenlong program. It appears that much of the design work took place between 2000 and 2004. One Internet source indicates the original December 11 picture may have been taken in late 2005, but this cannot be confirmed. The existence of the 611 Institute run test facility might indicate that some degree of flight testing has occurred. In early 2007 a French publication noted that Western intelligence agencies were very interested in the first test flight of a “secret super-scramjet demonstrator” which was tested in late 2006 and landed in the Indian Ocean. Indeed, China is pursuing the development of air-breathing hypersonic vehicles, but it is also possible this may have been a test of the Shenlong. These same Chinese websites also did not offer details regarding the performance of the Shenlong. Even if launched from a new H-6K bomber, which reportedly will be powered by Russian D-30K turbofans and capable of higher launch altitudes, the Shenlong does not appear to be large enough to reach sustained Low Earth Orbit (LEO) flight. As such, it may only be capable of short-duration LEO flight over Chinese territory, which would be consistent with a technology test and validation mission. The Shenlong would also likely help China with the development of hypersonic aircraft. The initial photo of the Shenlong does not indicate that it can carry a payload other than its motor, liquid fuel and its guidance system. That said, the Shenlong is broadly similar to U.S. and other unmanned space planes designed to test new technologies. These would include the U.S. Orbital Sciences X-34, Boeing X-37 and Japan’s HOPE-X. A larger version presumably would be able to carry a payload and be capable of sustained LEO flight. China’s Interest In Space Planes China’s interest in space planes began in earnest with the arrival of Dr. Qian Xueshen, who was the co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology and made enormous contributions to early U.S. rocket programs. But in 1950 he was suspected of spying for China, lost his security clearances, put under house arrest, and then deported to China in 1955 as part of post Korean War prisoner exchanges. Controversy has since raged over whether Qian’s prosecution was justified, or an example of McCarthy-era paranoia causing a travesty of U.S. justice. But on his return, Qian became a key ally of Mao Zedong and led the creation of China’s modern missile and aerospace sector. The release of the Shenlong picture occurred on his 96th birthday, and was thus likely intended as an unofficial tribute to Qian’s profound contributions to China’s missile forces, missile defense and anti-satellite programs, and broad manned and unmanned space capabilities. It was Qian’s 1949 concept for a space plane that formed the basis for the U.S. Air Force’s “Dynasoar” military space plane concept of the early 1960s, which led to the U.S. Space Shuttle. Qian also proposed another space plane concept in the late 1970s that closely resembled the Dynasoar. Spacecraft expert Mark Wade has noted that in 1988 Chinese designers proposed three space plane concepts. The Chang Cheng 1 was proposed by what is now the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight technology, and was a 2/3 shuttle-size space plane atop three large boosters. What is now the China Academy of Launch Technology proposed a much smaller space place atop Long-March size booster. Finally, the 601 Institute, connected to the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, proposed a small space plane atop an air-breathing hypersonic launcher. Only the later would have involved a truly reusable space access system, but all were deemed beyond China’s capabilities. But had they been implemented these proposals would have resulted in space planes flying in this decade.