Chinese manned test capsule returns to Earth

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The new colonial movement: China’s first unmanned test flight of its new manned capsule, still unnamed, ended today with that capsule’s safe return to Earth.

Before re-entry into the atmosphere, the capsule executed a skip maneuver employing aerodynamic lift in the high upper atmosphere. The technique is used to extend the re-entry time for vehicles returning to Earth from the Moon to avoid having to shed a large amount of velocity in a short time causing very high rates of peak heating. The skip reentry was used by Apollo Command Module returning from the Moon, as well as the Soviet Zond Probes and the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1.

Following atmospheric reentry, and at a determined altitude, two deceleration parachutes were opened, stabilizing the vehicle. Then, the three main parachutes were deployed, slowing the flight speed of descent. According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), moments before touching down the heat shield was discarded and six airbags were deployed and inflated to help it land softly.

More here from China’s propaganda press, which included this detail:

Different from the three-capsule structure of Shenzhou spaceships currently in use, the new spacecraft comprises a return capsule, which is the command center and the living place for astronauts, and a service capsule, which provides power and energy, according to the CAST.

In other words, the Shenzhou copied the Soyuz design, while this new spacecraft copied the American design used in all our manned capsules.

I have embedded below the fold a short video released by China’s state-run press, showing the reentry. That capsule sure looks a lot like an Apollo capsule. It also looks surprisingly scorched.


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  • John Fisher

    Hopefully for their own safety, they copied Space-X and not Boeing.

  • Matt in AZ

    Sure looks like a Dragon 1 to me. A bit more scorching though – I wonder how the refurbishment will compare.

  • David M. Cook

    They need to make the upper section (the ”afterbody“) angled back to keep it out of the fire!

  • MKB

    IIRC the mission profile had them bringing the capsule back from an altitude of 8,000km which would imply a much more energetic re-entry, with associated scorching, than a more typical LEO re-entry.

    Presumably this is in line with working toward lunar ambitions.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Although it’s been the case for some time, this launch and test now makes official the fact that China has succeeded Russia as the #2 spacefaring nation on Earth. Russia has been trying to build and test a next-generation manned capsule to replace Soyuz seemingly forever without success. The Chinese have now done so.

  • Dick Eagleson: My gosh, that is a very good point. But then, the Russians have been using the SLS management style since about 2005, so we should not be surprised that even the Chinese have outpaced them.

  • pzatchok

    That re-usable pod looks trashed.

    But I am sure they will just bolt a new aluminum skin on it and fly it again. Cheap fast and easy.

    I would like to see an extreme aero-braking test. Just how often can it be done to slow something down and just how slow can something get while braking like this.

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