Prototypes of China’s core space station module and new manned spacecraft arrive at launch site

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The new colonial movement: Prototypes of China’s core space station module and its new upgraded manned capsule have been delivered to the Long March 5B launch site.

The space station module will be used to test the installation and launch procedures for launching the actual module on the Long March 5B rocket. The manned capsule will be sent into orbit unmanned this spring on the Long March 5B to test both the rocket and the capsule, prior to human operations. This detail from the short article however is worth noting:

The new-generation manned spacecraft is 8.8 meters long and has a takeoff weight of 21.6 tonnes. It will be used for transporting crew to the space station and to conduct China’s future manned lunar missions.

Apparently in upgrading its Shenzhou manned spacecraft China has made it 0.3 meters longer and about four tons heavier. In fact, this manned ferry for getting to and from its space station is as heavy as a standard module used on both Mir and ISS. I could be wrong, but if this is the case they will require the Long March 5 or 5B for every manned flight. Since this rocket is large and expensive, it will be difficult to use it for maintaining a frequent launch pace, thus limiting the number of manned missions.

As I said, I could be wrong. Up until now I had assumed that a variant of the Long March 5 would be used to launch the station modules, and the smaller Long March 2F rocket used to ferry astronauts to it (as was done on all previous Chinese manned missions). This could still be the case.

If not, however, China’s space engineers have either put a limit on what they can achieve by overbuilding that manned capsule, or their government has made a major commitment to put a lot of tonnage into orbit. If the latter China’s space program is going to be quite competitive indeed.


One comment

  • Tom Billings

    It seems that China has been focusing on the wrong things:

    1.) They assumed that Space was a government domain, forever.

    2.) They have copied *government* programs, such as expendable SLS and the European programs, with the design of their Long March 5.

    3.) They assumed that there would be no push-back from the US government to their PLA Strategic Support Force, tasked to disable the US MilSpace assets, whose effectiveness impressed the PLA so much in 1991 and 2003 in Iraq. Basically, like all their contacts here in the US, they assumed Hillary would win in 2016, and she would be as willing to oppose China as a 6 years old child would be willing to oppose Santa Claus.

    4.) Since the successes of SpaceX with reusability, they have added the Long March 8 as an alternative backup reusable, though it won’t have the lift of a Falcon 9, much less a Falcon Heavy. They await SuperHeavy/Starship success before investing in a fully reusable launcher.

    5.) As long as the Chinese government has the money, they can play this stern chase game. Still, “a stern-chase is a long chase” is just as true now as it was under sail on the oceans. What is *not* so clear is whether China will have all the money they had in the past to play political prestige games in Space, when US citizens are free to play high productivity market games instead of prestige. When Chinese citizens get hungry enough because even a small portion of the money for their food imports is being spent on high visibility Space prestige games where the US keeps innovating faster, then Space prestige games may get their budgets shortened dramatically.

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