China launches test crew capsule using new Long March 5B rocket

A view of the next-generation Chinese crew spacecraft during pre-launch processing. Credit: CCTV

China has sent a test crew capsule into orbit, using its new Long March 5B rocket for the first time on May 5.

The 5B rocket left Earth from the country’s latest launch site, formerly a suborbital testing centre, Wenchang spaceport, in Hainan. This new location allows spacecraft to release stages over the South China Sea, instead of dropping them on land. The rocket hosts ten engines, eight kerosene-burning boosters and two hydrogen-fueled. These engines propelled the nine-hundred ton 5B into “predetermined orbit” according to The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.( CASC).

The spacecraft’s the main purpose of the mission was in fact to substantiate the capsules re-entry abilities including the detachable heat shield which was built to withstand our planets harsh atmosphere than the capsule will face.

The Long March rocket is the same type of space vehicle which will be tasked with delivering sections of the planned Chinese large modular space station, which once complete will be situated in lower Earth Orbit and will measure about one fifth the size of the ISS.

China’s most powerful launcher proved its worth carrying the “next-generation” crew capsule, which was created to ultimately take over from the Shenzhou spacecraft in transporting astronauts into space. The capsule can also accommodate double the amount of crew in comparison to the three Shenzhou is capable of transporting.

If need be the capsule is capable of an alternate configuration which would allow it to deliver a 1,100 pounds payload and three astronauts into orbit rather. This would also allow hardware and specimens to be sent back to Earth.

Although few details have been released about this mission it is expected that the capsule will return within the week, landing by use of inflating airbags and parachutes to allow for a relatively soft landing on solid ground.

In April China announced plans for its first Mars mission, Tianwen, translating into ‘Questions to Heaven’, in which the country intends to place its first rover on the red planet. This mission could greatly hinge on the success of this mission.