Chinese prototype space capsule arrived at its launch site in Wenchang, China
late January. The capsule, named Tianhe, will form part of the Chinese
Space Complex which is due to be completed as early as 2022. The prototype will
be unpiloted and serve as a demonstration and test for a manned operation.
The capsule is 8.8m tall and, according to the China Manned Space Agency, weighs around 23.8 tons. The capsule is capable of carrying a payload of around six astronauts or three astronauts and an additional 500kg.
The capsule relies on the propulsion of Long March Rockets which have been used before. Each rocket is capable of producing enough thrust to deliver 55,000 pounds into low earth orbit. The rockets were tested in 2017 and, owing to a malfunction in an engine, failed. Scientists and engineers resolved the issues and a successful launch was carried out in December of the same year.
rocket components for the launch will arrive at the Wenchang launch site early
The test flight will send the capsule several thousand kilometres into orbit where it will simulate the conditions the completed space station will experience. The capsule is designed to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and this will test the heat resistance and structural integrity of the unit. The weight of the heat resistant panels used to protect the internal components and passengers has been reduced from previous iterations of the craft, in particular, the Shenzhou craft used in previous missions.
In a statement from the government, Yang Qing, chief designer of the craft, said the craft is designed for sustainability and reusability. Yang Qing said reusing the craft multiple times will save money and lower the environmental impact of each launch.
Each manned mission aboard the capsule will last around six months.