Shenzhou Circumlunar Mission

Geopolitical Eclipsing Potential


Two Chinese Five Year Plans to Watch 2021-2025 & 2026-2030


 Although some have characterized it as a 21 st. Century version of an Asian lunar race between China (PRC) verses Russia , Japan and India similar to the US versus USSR lunar race efforts of the 1960’s. It in fact would seem to be a global trend leading to something much more important in the long term. All the World Powers that have the resources, economic capability must get the experience of doing a human lunar landing and base programs before the required global combined effort to transfer human civilization to another planet in our solar system will become geopolitically, economically, technologically practical and achievable. It would appear that this trend is gradually developing in that general direction whether intentionally or not. China ’s crewed lunar aspirations are now becoming more apparent by following its State Planning and what the in development hardware, infrastructure offers in capabilities.

NASA's former director Michael Griffin before leaving office stated that he still believed that China could if it chooses fly a manned circumlunar mission by 2015 via earth orbital rendezvous with the new Long March -5 booster escape stage. This duel launch scenario would utilize the lunar variant of the Shenzhou spacecraft and a propulsion stage. However from design studies by Phillip S. Clark of the British Interplanetary Society it is known the Long March-5 booster could do the mission in a single launch. The point ultimately being if the Chinese geopolitical leadership so chooses it could demonstrate manned lunar capability with in the next five year plan.

Chinese Crewed Lunar Circumnavigation

Once China successfully demonstrated the docking of two spacecraft both in automatic and manned spaceflight operations and the (Long March) CZ-5E booster is operational Chinese human crewed lunar circumnavigation flight becomes a given at any time they geopolitically choose after 2014 if not sooner. This lunar circumnavigation program through Earth Orbital Rendezvous (EOR) with docking using a Lunar variant of the Shenzhou human crewed spacecraft launched on a CZ-2F or CZ-2FG booster with the existing CZ-3B launch vehicle last stage as a trans-lunar-injection stage makes this possible even earlier than the single direct launch by the CZ-5E booster once proven and human rated. China must first build the industrial base and launch infrastructure for the CZ-5 program development. Once it completes the development of the CZ-5 launch vehicle probably in 2014 it could quickly carry out a manned lunar circumnavigation program followed by a manned lunar orbit mission through earth orbital rendezvous before 2020.

The July 24, 2001 edition of the Chinese aerospace magazine Hangkong Zhishi provided new details of China's lunar programs, including a four-step long term plan. The first step is a flyby or orbiting mission before 2005, possibly using the DFH-3 bus. The second step is a soft-landing mission before 2010. The third and the fourth step, from 2010 to 2020 and from 2020 to 2030, are robotic explorations focusing on rover and sample return missions. After 2030, it said China plans to establish a lunar base and make manned flights.

On 20 May 2002 Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's moon exploration programme, said "China is expected to complete its first exploration of the moon in 2010 and will establish a base on the moon as we did in the South Pole and the North Pole." That language suggested to some that China was planning human exploration of the Moon. However, in an interview with the BBC a day later, Ouyang said his remarks were misinterpreted. “We will explore the Moon certainly, but with unmanned spacecraft,” he told the BBC.

Robert Walker, a former Congressman and chairman of the House Science Committee who most recently led the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry. In a May 29, 2003 an op-ed in the Washington Times newspaper, Walker claimed that China was planning piloted missions to the Moon by the end of the decade. “The conclusion that the Chinese are engaged in an aggressive space program is my own, based upon the commission’s findings, but not included in the panel’s final report,” he wrote. “What we saw and heard during our year of hearings and investigation convinced me that China intends to be on the moon within a decade and will announce they are there for a permanent stay.”

The American engineering and analysis consulting company, the FUTRON Corporation, in its report, China and the Second Space Age," released 15 October 2003 [the same day as the first Chinese piloted flight], stated "China intends to conduct a mission to circumnavigate the Moon in a similar manner as was carried out by Apollo-8 in 1968 ... This mission will apparently involve a modified Shenzhou spacecraft and will be launched around 2006..." The source of this claim was not disclosed.

There is no evidence that China is developing the large launch vehicles needed for a piloted Lunar landing. But China could emulate the Soviet L-1 circumlunar mission profile from the mid-1960s using existing boosters. The Proton has a nominal payload of 20,000 kg to LEO, while the L-1 Zond 7 had a reported mass of 5979 kg. The Shenzhou descent capsule mass of 3,000 kg and the instrument propulsion module 2,800 kg are comparable [5,800 kg], while the 2,000 kg orbital module would not be needed for this mission.

The new Long March CZ-2EA can place 12,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit, while the Long March 3B can place about 13,500 kilograms into low earth orbit. A single launch of one of these boosters could be used to place a trans-lunar injection stage into low earth orbit. A piloted CZ-2F would first launch a modified Shenzhou capsule. Then 3 days later [the pad turnaround time at Jiuquan] the Trans-Lunar Injection stage would be launched. The two would dock.

The CZ-3B upper stage, which uses a version of the Lox/LH2 YF-75 engine, could be used as a Trans-Lunar Injection stage to send the Shenzhou into a circumlunar trajectory. The third stage uses 18,200 kg of cryogenic propellants, i.e. liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), which is more than would be required for the trans lunar mission. Two universal gimbal mounted engines provide the total thrust of 157kN. The expansion ratio of the engines is 80:1 and the specific impulse is 4312Ns/kg. The LH2 tank is pressurized by helium and regeneration system, and the LOX tank is pressurized by heated helium and regeneration system.

It turns out that if the booster is launched without a paylaod, the CZ-3B this stage can place itself into low earth orbit with sufficient residual propellant to serve as the Trans-Lunar Injection stage for the Shenzhou circumlunar voyage.

Based on Soviet/Russian Experience

Charles Vick does the math
Docking equipment 245 kg
Crew provisions 210 kg
Dm 2,690 kg
DM total 2,900 - 3,000 kg
Solar panels 150 kg
Structure etc 1,900 kg
Propellant + 1,000 kg
Instrument module 3,050 kg
Total = 6,195 kg
Dv = Isp x Go x LN (Mi/Mf)
Dv must be close to 3,100 meters/sec
LM-3BA upper stage payload P = 13,500 - 12,000 kg limit
Upper stage mass initial Mi = 21,000 kg
Upper stage propellant mass Mp = 18,190 kg
some of which is used to achieve orbit
Mi = 21,000 kg minus payload capacity LM-3B 13,050 which is 21,000 -13,500 = 7,500 kg
total mass lost during its first burn to achieve orbit leaving a stage total payload mass = 13,500 kg P
mi = 21,000 - propellant load 18,190 kg =Dry Weight 21,000 - 18,190 = 2,810 kg Ms dry weight
payload - dry weight = 13,500 - 2,810 = 10,690 kg Mp propellant at an Isp 442 known
M final 2,810+ 6,195 = 9,005 kg Mf
Mi 2,810 + 6,195 + 10,690 = 19,695 kg Mi
DV = 442 x 9.80655 x LN (mi/mf)
DV = 442 x 9.80655 x LN (19,695/9,005)
DV = 3,392 meters/sec. [3,392.1101 m/s]
Required DV = 3,100 m/sec
R= Mi/Mf= e(DV/Isp.G.)
Mi/9005 = e(3100/442 x 9.80655)
Mi/9005= e(3100/4334.4951)
Mi =18,411.4518 or 18,412kg
DV=3,100 m/sec
Mi1-Mi2= 19,695-18,412=238 kg extra propellant and residual as well as boil off losses

The absence of evidence on these human lunar exploration goals does not mean something is not happening. It can be quite to the contrary and more often than not it should be a red flag warning that something is indeed going on that will eventually manifest itself. Although the human lunar circumnavigation mission is clearly technically feasible through two different means there is no certainty of any committed program. However, the parallel development of the required technologies in both the launch vehicles along with the crewed human Shenzhou spacecraft, EVA and docking systems technology for the committed space station long term goals as well as the potential not openly committed human crewed lunar circumnavigation and lunar orbit mission capability can not be ignored except at the US own geopolitical technological surprise expense. Only the PRC’s political leadership decision has to be instituted to carry this out for it to be accomplished within the next three five year plans but China remains silent on this issue. Equally Russia could do much the same thing at anytime they choose politically to make it a State program.

One day we may wake up to a Russian and or Chinese geopolitical technological surprise and realize that with little warning that Russia or China has launched a precursor un-crewed earth orbital rendezvous (EOR) lunar circumnavigation mission to be followed by a human lunar circumnavigation mission soon afterwards. Once the CZ-5 booster becomes operational after 2013-2014, the single launch circumnavigation mission becomes possible and the lunar orbital mission becomes possible through EOR.

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