- Satellite imagery shows a rapid expansion of facilities in a remote corner of China.
- China used the location in 2020 to land its first unmanned space plane.
- The base, which could be China’s version of Area 51, now features a dozen new buildings.
China is building up a base in the middle of nowhere, and it could evolve into the country’s version of the U.S.’s secretive Area 51. The base has gone from a dusty landing strip to … something much more mysterious.
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Last September, China launched its unmanned, reusable space plane for the first time. The vehicle remained in orbit for 2 days before landing at the 3-mile-long airstrip in the Xinjiang province. No one knew about the airfield prior to the landing.
In the last several months, at least a dozen new buildings have sprung up at the base, according to NPR. While Google Maps images from 2021 still don’t show the new buildings, if you zoom out from the visible runway, the strip clearly appears to be part of an equilateral triangle, allowing takeoffs—and more importantly, landings—from three directions.
The reported new buildings suggest a base in the middle of nowhere, miles from any civilization, could prove very useful to a country trying to keep its aerospace capabilities a secret. Sound familiar?
In the 1950s, the U.S. government set up such a base at Area 51, deep in the Nevada desert and adjacent to nuclear test sites. The Pentagon and CIA tested and flew the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, the B-2 bomber, and the F-117A stealth fighter at the base. The U.S. has also used Area 51 to experiment with many other, less successful designs, but we’ll probably never know about all of them.
China, which is racing to catch up with the U.S. in several high-end aerospace categories, could surely use an Area 51 of its own. The country is reportedly developing a new stealth bomber, the H-20, that will be in the same rough category as the B-2. (Though it can’t be as powerful as it sounds.)
The more China can hide the aircraft from rival nations—especially the U.S.—the better. If China’s Area 51 soon sprouts large, bomber-sized hangars, we’ll definitely know something interesting is going on.
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