China successfully completed the launch and flight of a suborbital spaceplane on July 16th. Not much else is known, and the Chinese press release was very short, but observers seem to be hinting at a prototype for a vertical takeoff, horizontal landing (VTHL) first stage spaceplane, which could typically have a second stage attached to it.
This architecture seems to match with the step 1 on the spaceplane roadmap presented by Long Lehao, the chief engineer of the Long March rockets at CALT, at University of Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago. Step 1 seems to be a VTHL first stage, using traditional rocket engines, and carrying what looks to be a classical second stage. Step 2 would be spaceplane second stage (meaning that the second stage would be able to land horizontally), and step 3 would be a single-stage-to-orbit combined cycle engine spaceplane. This 3rd step would be an unprecedented technical achievement.
For more information on this specific topic, viewers can check out our weekly Space News Roundup video on YouTube: