China readies its new deep-space crew capsule for 1st test flight

Space.com | 1/23/1942 | Andrew Jones
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A Chinese next-generation spacecraft for taking astronauts to low Earth orbit and beyond has arrived at a coastal spaceport in preparation for a test flight.

The new spacecraft is designed boost China's capabilities in sending humans into orbit, reduce costs through partial reusability, and allow astronauts to survive the radiation environment and higher-speed reentries of deep-space missions.

Spacecraft - Meters - Feet - Mass - Liftoff

The as-yet-unnamed spacecraft is 8.8 meters long (28.9 feet) with a mass at liftoff of 21.6 metric tons (23.8 tons), according to the China Manned Space Agency. It will be capable of carrying six astronauts, or three astronauts and 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of cargo.

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Spacecraft - Wenchang - Satellite - Launch - Center

The new spacecraft arrived at Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island in the South China Sea on Monday (Jan. 20), and it is due to launch sometime in the next few months.

Like NASA's Orion EFT-1 crewed spacecraft test in 2014, the spacecraft will be sent into a relatively high, elliptical orbit, reaching an apogee of 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) before reentry — far beyond that of China's previous human spaceflight-related flights.

Flight - Spacecraft - Performance - Orbit - Coating

The flight will test the spacecraft's performance in orbit, a lightweight heat-resistant coating for reentry, parachute systems and a new airbag-cushion-landing design. Systems such as life support will be absent from the spacecraft for the first flight.

The mission will be launched by the first Long March 5B rocket, a variant of the huge Long March 5, which had a dramatic and successful return-to-flight mission in December. The rocket components are due to join the new spacecraft at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in early February.

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If the new rocket performs well, it can next be used for constructing a modular space station. The spacecraft will carry nearly 10 tons of propellant to make it similar in mass to launching a...
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