HI EVERYBODY! Over the past few days, I've been thinking a lot about this mysterious airstrip in China.

This is the place where @planet4589 @Marco_Langbroek @DutchSpace and others think China's new space plane landed on 6 Sept... (photo 8 Sep via @planetlabs).

Let's talk!
First off, if you're in need of big picture view, check out this story featuring @brianweeden and @planet4589, which gives a nice summary of where things stand (an audio version also be on @npratc tonight!).

Now that you're caught up, let's GET TO IT!

The airstrip literally appeared out of nowhere in 2016. It's on the edge of an old Chinese nuclear test site called Lop Nur (sometimes Lop Nor). And it's unusual for a couple of reasons....

First #OhMyGoshThatsALongRunway! I clocked it on Google Earth at 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).

This raises the question of whether they do a road race and if so, could I could get a T-shirt that says “I burned it up at the Lop Nur 5k nuclear fun run....”
Seriously though, even the massive PLAAF base at Dingxin has a runway that’s only 4,000 meters long. And you know what else Dingxin has?

TAXIWAYS! Aircraft parked on the apron! Tire marks on the runway itself.

All completely missing form the runway at Lop Nur.
So is there a runway that DOES look like Lop Nur anywhere in the world? Well yes, actually I happened to find one… in Florida.
That is of course the Shuttle Landing Facility on Merritt Island. The runway is 4,500 m long. Notice there’s no taxiway! No other aircraft on the apron! Seems similar right? Also similar, each airstrip has one massive hanger. The SLF hangar is bigger than the one at Lop Nur.
Does it look like anywhere else? Well funny you should mention Site 251 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Because check it out! There’s a 4,500m runway there too, where the USSR landed the Buran (Soviet Space Shuttle). It’s lined up almost exactly the same 6/24 as Lop Nur 5/23…
So the airstrip is a reasonable match to the 2 other facilities on earth that lands space planes. What else can we say about it? Well, as @planet4589 has pointed out that the Lop Nur runway runs right under the orbital track of the Chinese space plane.

Given its orbit, it would have passed over the site at around 10:00AM local (2:00 UTC). @planetlabs happened to snap a photo at 10:11 AM that seems to show vehicles and maybe the plane itself on the runway, 2km from the threshold. (labels by @alykat)
@Dutchspace also made a cool movie showing these pixels aren’t just dust on the lens.

So what did land? 🤷

But we do know a few things: It was small enough to fit on top of a Long March 2F. And it needed a runway to come down. That makes people think of the USAF's X-37b (aka. adorable baby space shuttle).
So here's the timeline as I have it:

2010 USAF starts flying classified X-37b missions.
2011 Chinese media start talking about space planes.
2016 GIANT RUNWAY gets built
2020 Something takes off and lands

But why? Again 🤷🤷

@brianweeden speculates it could be a good test bed for new space sensors.

@planet4589 says it might have SOME applications for hypersonic weapons development.

Or maybe they're doing it just because the U.S. has one.
Back to the airstrip. @planetlabs got their SkySat in there to grab a few hi-res images on 8 September. Not a lot to see after the party. The motor pool and main staging area (I think those are modular trailers?) has been busy...
There’s also this vehicle on the apron at one end of the runway. I’d love any thoughts on what that thing is (@wslafoy, you know Chinese trucks, right?)...
Beyond that, not a lot of clues. But I keep coming back to this 5,000 meter runway. Xinhua’s statement said the new spacecraft “is expected to offer convenient and low-cost round trip transport for the peaceful use of the space.”

Is this big runway part of big plans to come?
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Geoff Brumfiel

Geoff Brumfiel Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @gbrumfiel

24 Jul
President Trump keeps saying that sooner or later SARS-CoV-2 will "disappear."

But this idea that somehow the pandemic will burn itself out doesn't hold up. Here's why. (DEPRESSING-ISH FRI THREAD)

First, the theory: It's known as "herd immunity". If enough people catch COVID-19 and recover, and if they are immune, then the entire population will be protected. Estimates vary widely, but somewhere between 50%-80% of a given pop would need to catch COVID for this to work.
Herd immunity is real, but historically only discussed in terms of vaccination campaigns.

For example, if 95% of a population is vaccinated against measles (very contagious) then a single case cannot spread into the community.
Read 16 tweets
28 Jan
Wow. Wow. Wow. Reading through the criminal complaint against nanotechnology researcher Charles Lieber at Harvard (courtsey of @relucasz). This is nuts.

Lieber was offered $50,000 a month and $150K+ for collaborating with Wuhan University of Technology.
@relucasz The FBI alleges that this was part of China's Thousand Talents Program, to recruit Western researchers and steal intellectual property.

Lieber was offered cash (and apparently accepted).
@relucasz Wuhan University established the WUT-Harvard Joint Nano Key Laboratory based on the agreement with Lieber... But HARVARD never knew anything about it. When they found out about it in 2015, Lieber denied everything.
Read 5 tweets
30 Aug 19
NEW: President Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image of Iran

(with comments from @nktpnd and @mhanham )
@nktpnd @mhanham To recap, earlier today, President Trump tweeted a REALLY clear picture of an accident at Iran's space launch facility. The picture is far better quality than what the best commercial satellites (like those operated by @Maxar) can produce. See for yourself.
@nktpnd @mhanham @Maxar Experts like @nktpnd and @mhanham have never seen anything like it. They firmly believe it came from a classified source. Both the White House and the @ODNIgov declined to comment.
Read 8 tweets
19 Aug 19
. @ctbto_alerts confirms that 4 IMS stations are offline in Russia.

RUP61; Dubna: the last message received in the International Data Centre (IDC) was 2019/08/10 03:16:59 (IDC received time UTC)

RUP54; Kirov: the last message received in IDC was 2019/08/10 06:19:31 UTC
@ctbto_alerts The other two stations went offline on August 13th.
@ctbto_alerts All four outages came just days after an accident that may have involved the nuclear-powered SSC-X-9 Skyfall missile. Five ROSATOM employees were confirmed dead in that incident. It happened on August 8. The stations are CTBTO funded, but operated by local Russian institutions.
Read 6 tweets
24 Jan 19
GUYS! I'm going to watch the entire W76-1 LEP celebration from Pantex yesterday and tweet about it in this thread...

First thing I learned: "Pantexan" is a word.
First up, NNSA director Lisa Gordon-Hagerty: W76-1 LEP started in October 1998, with first production unit in Sep of '08. Last unit produced in Dec 2018. So ~20 years end-to-end...
LGH: W76-1 required "significant modifications" to the warhead. The 76-1 extends warhead life by 20+ years. It incorporates nuclear surety enhancements and minimizes certification risks in the absence of testing.
Read 25 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!