Credit: CMSA

A crucial flight of China’s Long March-5B carrier rocket is slated for launch in the first half of 2020, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO).

The maiden flight of this class of Long March booster is critical to China’s human and robotic space exploration plans.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reports that the Long March-5B will carry the core capsule and experiment capsules of China’s space station, expected to be completed in 2022.

Prototype of the Tianhe core module. China’s space station is expected to be operational around 2022. CCTV/Screengrab

Three phases

The country’s Tiangong space station is mainly comprised of the Core Capsule, Experiment Capsule I and Experiment Capsule II, with the aim of building a reliable operating space station and providing long-term support for the onboard astronauts.

Testing of Tianhe core module.
Credit: China Manned Space Agency (CMS) via Andrew Jones

According to Xinhua, the space station project will be implemented in three phases: key technology validation, construction and operation.

Six flight missions, including the maiden flight of the Long March-5B rocket and launch of the test core capsule, have been scheduled in the first phase, and launches of experiment capsules in the second phase.

Each capsule will weigh about 20 tons. After a series of tests, the core capsule will be transferred into the flight model phase. The two experiment capsules are ready undergoing final assembly, according to China’s Science and Technology Daily.

Credit: China Manned Space Agency

Experiment racks

Xinhua News Agency also reports that there are sixteen experiment racks installed within the core module and two lab capsules of the space station, and an extravehicular experiment platform will be built.

Each rack is regarded as a lab that can support various space experiments, and astronauts can upgrade and replace the experiments.

In addition, a capsule holding a large optical telescope will fly in the same orbit as the station.

Robot arm under development for use in China’s station effort.
Credit: CGTN/screengrab

Cold atomic experiment system

The space station will carry a hydrogen clock, a cold atomic clock, and an optical clock to establish a high-precision time and frequency system.

The time and frequency system, as well as an ultra-low temperature cold atomic experiment system, will support research in general relativity, gravitational physics, and quantum physics, said Zhang Wei, director of the Utilization Development Center of the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization (CSU).

China’s space station program will host international collaboration in experiments on the orbiting complex. Nearly 100 international cooperation proposals have been received, and about 30 have passed the initial evaluation, Zhang added.

Credit: Lu Liangliang/CNSA



Moon exploration

In related work, China aims to build a scientific research station in the south polar region of the Moon and realize a crewed lunar exploration mission in about ten years, reports Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration.



China will launch the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to collect and return lunar samples back to Earth at the end of 2019, Zhang said, according to Xhinua News Agency.

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

Shaoshan, the hometown of China’s late leader Mao Zedong, will be one of the permanent storage centers of the lunar samples, Zhang said.

Lastly, since 2016, China has set April 24 as the country’s Space Day. The theme of this year’s activities is to “pursue space dreams for win-win cooperation.”

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