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China announces major exploration plans
BEIJING • Broadening its challenge to the United States, the Chinese government Thursday announced an ambitious five-year plan for space exploration that could establish China as a major rival at a time when the U.S. program is in retreat.
Coupled with China's earlier vows to build a space station and put an astronaut on the moon, the announcement conjured up memories of the Cold War-era space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States, which has de-emphasized manned space flight in recent years, is now dependent on Russia for transporting its astronauts to the International Space Station. Russia, for its part, has suffered an embarrassing string of failed satellite launchings.
America's classified X-37B spaceplane is probably spying on China, according to a report in Spaceflight magazine.
The unpiloted vehicle was launched into orbit by the US Air Force in March last year and has yet to return to Earth.
The Pentagon has steadfastly refused to discuss its mission but amateur space trackers have noted how its path around the globe is nearly identical to China's spacelab, Tiangong-1.
There is wide speculation that the X-37B is eavesdropping on the laboratory.
"Space-to-space surveillance is a whole new ball game made possible by a finessed group of sensors and sensor suites, which we think the X-37B may be using to maintain a close watch on China's nascent space station," said Spaceflight editor Dr David Baker.
The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), looks like a mini space shuttle and can glide back down through the atmosphere to land on a runway, just like Nasa's re-usable manned spaceplane used to do before its retirement last July.
China confirms satellite downed
China has confirmed it carried out a test that destroyed a satellite, in a move that caused international alarm.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said a test had been carried out but insisted China was committed to the "peaceful development of outer space".
The US backed reports last week that China had used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite.
A senior Taiwanese politician said he viewed it as an aggressive act.
It is the first known satellite intercept test for more than 20 years.
Several countries, including Japan, Australia and the US, have expressed concern at the test, amid worries it could trigger a space arms race.