The first test of the Chinese next-generation crewed spacecraft returned to Earth and finished its mission on May 8th, after spending two days and nineteen hours in orbit.
The primary mission of this launch was to test several aspects of the new spacecraft. China National Space Agency announced that the unnamed craft has passed all checks for its autonomous flight control and landing system, a new engine with non-toxic fuel, a Chinese-made ceramic heat-proof coating, the parachute and the airbag deployment.
Photos of craft show a scorched exterior with several missing panels. In an interview with China Youth Daily, chief designer Wang Ping explained that the appearance is nominal. The missing panels were designed to separate from the craft to reveal the parachute and airbag mechanisms. The discoloration is from the protective white outer coating vaporizing off due to the heat and friction encountered during reentry.
The biggest differences between this craft and current Chinese spacecraft is the size and how far it can travel. The current Chinese craft is only capable of carrying three-person crews to low Earth orbit for space stations and don’t have the capabilities needed for lunar missions. The new craft is larger and will be able to carry up to seven taikonauts for a space station mission. With a bit of rearrangement of the cabin, up to 500 kilograms of cargo and be transported with three taikonauts on either space station or lunar missions.
- CNSA press release (Chinese)
- Spaceflight Fans article (Chinese)
- China Youth Daily online article from the spacecraft’s perspective (Chinese)