China Announces Unmanned Test Flight of Next-Generation Crewed Spacecraft in 2019

China Announces Unmanned Test Flight of Next-Generation Crewed Spacecraft in 2019

China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) will perform a first test flight of new spacecraft for human spaceflight in 2019

China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) scheduled the first test flight of a full-scale 20-metric ton model of a successor to its Shenzhou spacecraft for human spaceflight in 2019. The next-generation crewed spacecraft will act as the payload for the first flight of the Long March 5B launch vehicle. The vehicle is a variant of the Long March 5 and is designed for lofting large modules of the planned Chinese Space Station (CSS) into low Earth orbit. In 2016, CAST launched a scale model of a new return module to test re-entry and landing profile for new spacecraft through the first flight of the Long March 7 medium-lift rocket.

The test of the spacecraft will focus on testing avionics, separation events, heat shielding, parachutes, and recovery operations and not include environmental controls or systems required to support astronauts. CAST is a major spacecraft and satellite maker under the main contractor for the Chinese space program and is developing the Shenzhou successor capable of travelling out of low Earth orbit and into deep space. China currently depends on the 7.8-ton Shenzhou spacecraft for trips to low Earth orbit. To travel beyond the low Earth orbit, the next-generation spacecraft requires to handle the extreme radiation environment of deep space. Moreover, it will have to deal with the Earth’s atmosphere while reentering at greater velocities.

CAST has planned two versions of the new spacecraft, with one having a mass of 14-metric tons and another of 20 tons. According to the officials, both the spacecraft will be capable of carrying four to six astronauts. The officials did not offer a timeline for the first crewed flight, however, stated that the spacecraft will soon be available for use to for missions to low Earth orbit and the CSS. The planned 2019 mission will be a valuable test of both the 20-ton spacecraft and the Long March 5B. A successful flight could clear the new launch vehicle to launch the first module of the CSS in 2020. The news was published in SpaceNews on October 12, 2018.

Edwin Derek

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