China’s manned spaceship returns
The capsule of China’s experimental new-generation spaceship successfully landed in a designated site in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on 8 May 2020, the country’ space agency said, a major step in its ambitions to run a permanent space station and send astronauts to the moon. China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said the test was a “complete success”.
- China launched the trial version of the new spaceship without a crew by the country’s most powerful carrier rocket Long March-5B from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China’s island province of Hainan on 5 May 2020.
- The experimental spaceship flew in orbit for two days and 19 hours, during which it carried out a series of space science and technology experiments.
- It also tested key technologies including the heat shielding and control during its re-entry into the atmosphere, as well as multi-parachute recovery and partial reuse.
- The spacecraft entered the return orbit at 12:21 pm after which its return capsule separated with its service capsule at 1:33 pm.
- Three parachutes slowed its descent. Before touching down, its six airbags were deployed and inflated to help it land softly, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said.
- At 1:49 pm, the return capsule landed safely. The search team found it in a timely manner and confirmed that the capsule structure was intact, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The future missions of the spaceship were expected to be manned missions.
- It is an advanced space transport vehicle adapted to multiple tasks. It can be used not only in low-Earth orbit missions to support the construction of China’s space station but also for deep-space exploration, such as manned lunar exploration.
- Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) under the CASC, the test spaceship is nearly 9 metres tall and about 4.5 metres at its widest point. It weighs more than 20 tonnes.
- Different from the three-capsule structure of Shenzhou spacecraft currently in use, the new spacecraft comprises a return capsule, which is the command centre and the living place for astronauts, and a service capsule, which provides power and energy.
- The return capsule is designed to be reusable. Star sensors, computers and other high-value equipment have been moved from the service capsule to the return capsule so that they can be recycled after returning to Earth.
- China initiated the manned space programme in 1992. In recent years, it has emerged as a major space power with manned space missions and landing a rover in the dark side of the moon.
- It is currently building a space station of its own expected to be ready by 2022 and a mission to Mars.