December 12, a shocking photo appearing on Internet effectively proves that China is researching on next generation reusable space vehicle. A No.40672 H-6 bomber was ready to take-off and carrying a scaled TAV (Trans-Atmospheric Vehicle) model on its central line hard point.
From the picture, The TAV model was painted with its Chinese name "神龙" (Shen-long, Supernal Dragon). This TAV model's design likes a miniature of U.S. Space Shuttle body, and probably fitted with small delta wings. CAC No.611 Institute is the main designer of TAV.
According to the H-6 size, the scaled TAV model is about 8-9 meter length. Without any scramjet inlets, this VAT has a rocket nozzle at the end tip. Apparently, Chinese developers have abandon to waste time on the hypersonic air-breathing propulsion system but choose a conventional rocket power system to realize Single-stage-to-orbit. As a matter as fact, U.S. Air Force once had a similar project in 1978.
This TAV researching in China is called as "803-706 Trans-Atmospheric Vehicle Project", which has begun since about 2000. Like 921 Shenzhou spaceship project, "803-706 project" is also a national scale cooperation project. Some scientists from Chinese military-technology-related universities, like NWPU and HIT, are also involved in project's relative researching areas, like flight control system, Magnet Blushless DC Motor, heterogeneous material and rocket propulsion system. China's initiate investment on TAV has been over 100 million RMB.
The dominant position of No.611 institute in this project just reflects the boom of China’s pre-research on aerospace aircraft in 1987, when China decided to set up “863-204” project. Research Institutes from Chinese Aviation and Space Industries respectively provided 11 concept designs about future aerospace transportation vehicles.
No.601 institute brought an air-breathing ramjet+ turbojet propulsion aircraft, which is an advanced design but underlines an extremely high technological threshold. And No.611 institute provided a design, which was esteemed as the most available one in competition. No.611 institute admitted to absorb advantages from French Hermes Shuttle and was consulting the cooperation with foreign countries. In CAC’s website, it said that the TAV design was finished in 2006.
The exif information of the Internet picture showed that the TAV model and its aerial platform were photographed in 2005. And in October 2007, Great Technology LTD, an IT company located in Sichuan Province, via its website to declare that it has complete the contract with CAC No.611 to reconstruct the "863-706 Long-distance Commanding & Controlling Center". It also means that China's TAV project has entered the hardware testing stage before 2007.
In 2002, Professor Zhuang Fenggan, Chinese famous aerodynamic specialist and member of Chinese Academy of Sciences, once said that China has focused on developing “aerospace plane” for a while and would use it as future aerospace transportation vehicle and space war platform. Zhuang’s words are the first credible prove of China’s "803-706 project"
Coincidently, just before the photo unveiled on Internet, Zhuang Fenggan was interviewed by a Hong Kong Newspaper and expressed the same opinion but did not give the exact schedule. And from China Aviation Newspaper’s report, the flight testing base in Yan-Liang will carry an “aerospace project” in eleventh 5-year-plan period. So China’s future aerospace vehicle or "803-706 project" will achieve its first milestone before 2010.