Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

China’s growing interest in landing astronauts on the Moon includes developing a potent new launch vehicle.

Zhou Yanfei, deputy chief designer of China’s manned space program stated late last week that not only are the country’s existing boosters not powerful enough for the task, other technological skills are missing.

“The second problem is our survival ability under extraterrestrial circumstances,” Zhou told China Central Television (CCTV). “We do not have any experience in that yet. Neither do we have ground support capacity. So far our manned space exploration missions have been focused on tasks in low-Earth orbit. So for lunar scientific exploration and applications, we also need to establish a systematic lunar exploration and application system and propose original scientific exploration targets and methods.”

Space officials discuss China’s Moon exploration efforts at 2020 China Space Conference.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Shenzhou-series of piloted spacecraft are not suitable for lunar expeditions and China doesn’t yet have a lunar landing vehicle, Zhou said in a China Daily report. “Our ground support system was designed for operations in low-Earth orbit rather than on the lunar surface. Moreover, Chinese astronauts have no experience working on an extraterrestrial body.”

New wave of lunar exploration

Zhou’s comments were highlighted in his report to the 2020 China Space Conference, now underway until September 21 in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province.

2020 China Space Conference, now underway in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province until September 21.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

As reported by China Daily, China is resolute to land its astronauts on the Moon and establish a scientific station there, according to the project leader.

“A new wave of lunar exploration has been emerging in the world, with participants aiming to make sustainable missions to deepen knowledge of the Moon and exploit resources there,” Zhou said.

Long March 5 Y4 liftoff.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Moon booster

Zhou said researchers have initiated two approaches to building China’s Moon booster: making a new heavy-lift rocket capable of deploying more than 35 metric tons of payload in a lunar transfer orbit, or modifying the next-generation rocket designed to carry astronauts, which is under development.

The latter approach is being pursued, China Daily adds, because it would be easier to design and shortens the time the booster can become operational.

China’s Moon booster is being designed at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. Its main body will be 285 feet (87 meters tall), with a diameter of 16 feet (5 meters), making the launcher nearly twice as tall as the Long March 5, currently the largest of China’s family of boosters.

China Daily adds that the huge launcher would boast a liftoff weight of about 2,200 metric tons, nearly triple that of the Long March 5. The booster would enable hurling a 25-ton spacecraft onto a lunar trajectory.

China’s next lunar exploration phase: sample return from the Moon.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Return sample mission

In a related development, Yu Dengyun, deputy chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said at the gathering that preparations are progressing smoothly for this year’s liftoff of the Chang’e-5 probe to acquire samples of the Moon and bring them back to Earth.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chang’e-5 is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander. After reaching lunar orbit, the orbiter and returner will circle the Moon, while the lander and the ascender will land on the lunar surface. The lander will then collect around 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar samples into a vessel in the ascender. The vessel will be brought back to the Earth by the returner.

Moon sample container rendezvous with Earth return vehicle.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Our previous returners came back to the Earth at the first cosmic velocity, around 7.9 kilometers every second, while this time the returner is designed at the second cosmic velocity, around 11.2 kilometers every second. Therefore we face many challenges including the aerodynamic configuration, the adoption of thermal protection material and our control,” Yu told CCTV.

The 2020 China Space Conference began last Friday, jointly hosted by the Chinese Society of Astronautics and the China Space Foundation.

For a look at the 2020 China Space Conference, go to:

This new video spotlights the upcoming Chang’e-5 Moon mission at:

Leave a Reply