Image via CASC
On Tuesday, China’s next-generation crew capsule’s prototype launched atop a Long March 5B rocket at 06:00 AM Eastern Time from the coastal Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island. Once at the designated altitude, the unnamed spacecraft performed a series of maneuvers successfully.
And as scheduled, the spacecraft has now touched down safely in the Dongfeng desert area at 01:49 AM Eastern Time. The crew capsule used its heat shield and parachute systems to descend safely towards the earth after the planned deorbital burn and separation of crew and service modules. During the test flight, the spacecraft also lofted a prototype inflatable cargo reentry system for testing purposes as well.
The upcoming space capsule has two variants. One weighs 14 metric tons while the other weighs 21 metric tons. The latter, which is designed for deep space, was tested during this flight. This Chinese crew capsule is set to be the successor of the Shenzhou space capsule, which has launched all six of the country’s crewed spaceflights to date. The successor is built by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and is designed to carry up to seven astronauts (compared to Shenzhou’s capacity of three).
This successful test allows China to proceed with a potential July mission to send an orbiter and rover to Mars. It also clears the Long March 5B rocket for lofting modules as heavy as 22-metric-tons for China’s future space flights into the lower earth orbit.