Great developments for China’s future plans for Moon exploration! On July 12, 2023, the deputy chief engineer Zhang Hailian, from the China Manned Space Engineering Office, announced a detailed plan for a manned Chinese mission to the Moon. His speech opened the 9th China Commercial Aerospace Forum, held in Wuhan. The intention of the Chinese government is to enable scientific exploration of the lunar surface by 2030.
That’s right: China aims to land a Taikonaut on the Moon in less than 7 years.
A new spacecraft and launch system
Not only has the announcement been made with a precise time frame, but also loads of new information about the technology necessary for the mission have been shared.
The Chinese will use a new generation spacecraft, the name of which is not yet known, but it is being referred to as the “New Generation Manned Spacecraft” or the “NMS”. The NMS will be able to carry three astronauts in lunar orbit.
It is being designed as multipurpose, and is stated to also be able to accommodate up to 7 Taikonauts for missions in Low Earth Orbit and to the Chinese Space Station. Like Orion, the spacecraft will be composed of a launch escape system, a return capsule, and a service module, which will have a combined weight of 26 tons.
In order to reach lunar orbit, a new heavy-lift launch vehicle is being developed. We already know its name: it’s the Long March 10 or 921 rocket. It is planned to be 92 meters tall and 5 meters wide. It will propel the capsule with a thrust of 2678 tons at liftoff. With considerable engine tests already performed, the first orbital tests of the rocket are scheduled to begin in 2027. The following months will see progressive testing of the whole launch vehicle-capsule system.
It’s been announced that the rocket will have two versions: a boosted version that will be used for moon missions, with a payload capacity of 27 tons to lunar transfer orbit (LTO), and a single-stage version for Earth orbit missions, to reduce costs. Reusability of the first stage and boosters is also being discussed. Estimates suggest that the first stage could be reused to deliver 14 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO).
We reported the plans for Moon Landing in a previous article, with In Situ Resource Utilization being considered. We have now new details concerning the initial operations and the establishing of a scientific research base on the surface. The CNSA plans to launch a mobile scientific laboratory, that will be able to perform unmanned operations, but also accommodate up to two astronauts for short stays. With subsequent missions, more material will be gathered to establish a permanent moon base.
The Lander, helped by a propulsion stage to get it to Lunar Orbit, has also been talked about. It will weigh as much as the new manned spacecraft, so it will also be launched by Long March 10. Zhang Hailian, the deputy chief engineer of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, talked about the development of the Lander. It is being designed to be as lightweight as possible, with redundant systems and four engines that will provide the crew of two Taikonauts with 7500 N of thrust each.
A new small member of the mission was also announced: a new Lunar Rover. The rover, which was previously undisclosed, will weigh about 200 kg and be transported on the Lunar Lander. It will help the astronauts to carry out scientific experiments and move with ease. Its range of up to 10 km will enable the astronauts to sample the lunar soil in different locations around the landing site. It seems that the CNSA is studying an even smaller rover, foldable and stored on the back of the Rover, to return the Taikonauts to the Lander safely in case of an emergency.
Moon Suit Details and Future Developments
There are also details about the astronaut moon suits. The custom suits Taikonauts will wear have been designed to be comfortable in different operations. Walking, of course, but also for sample collection, digging operations, and driving on the surface. According to the CNSA, the suits will have a life support endurance of 8 hours, enabling extended operations of Taikonauts on the lunar surface.
With more details being announced almost every month, the CNSA is rapidly developing into an ever more advanced agency. With Chinese Moon missions already planned and underway, the next few years are guaranteed to give us even more surprises, and we’re excited to see what this new phase in Moon Exploration will look like.