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New Generation Manned Spacecraft

On 06 November 2018, the 12th China International Aerospace Expo opened in Zhuhai. There were a lot of refreshing exhibits and performances in the aviation aspect of the air show. There are also many bright spots in the aerospace aspect. People's spacecraft made heavy appearances at this air show. Among them, the new generation of manned spacecraft, as a successor to the existing Shenzhou spacecraft, will allow the Chinese to go further in space and fulfill the Chinese dream of flying to the moon

Advances in aerodynamics and computational capabilities have made designing large-diameter return cabins handy. The United States and Russia have carried out related developments. After the return cabin diameter increases, they do not care about the volume of the bell-shaped design. The inverted cone return cabin with low processing difficulty began to become popular.

China's new generation multi-purpose spaceship is a large two-cabin spaceship with a diameter of 4.5 meters, a length of 7.23 meters, and a weight of 14 tons. Its internal volume of the return cabin can reach 13 cubic meters. The new generation of spacecraft will initially be launched on the Long March VII carrier rocket in active service to support the space shuttle transportation mission of our space station. The new-generation spacecraft can transport cargo up to 4 tons, and when used as a cargo spacecraft, it can transport cargo down to 2.5 tons. Although the maximum cargo capacity is less than that of the Tianzhou spacecraft, the downward cargo capacity of large capacity has filled China's manned spaceflight system.

More importantly, the new generation of spacecraft takes into account both manned and cargo missions. It will also develop a manned spacecraft model to replace the Shenzhou spacecraft and become a space taxi. This is similar to the Dragon II spacecraft being developed in the United States. The Shenzhou spacecraft can only transport 3 people at a time, while the new generation of spaceships directly doubles and can transport 6-7 people at a time. Even if the space station Tiangong will be expanded and increased in capacity, the new generation manned spacecraft will have more than enough capacity. Carrying 500 kg of cargo is really an all-rounder. The shape and structure of the multi-purpose spaceship is very similar to the Orion spacecraft in the United States and the spacecraft of the Russian Federation. It not only has multi-mission capabilities, but also meets the needs of low-Earth orbit space stations and deep space manned missions. The life of the multi-purpose spacecraft has also been greatly improved. The time it has docked on the orbital space station has increased from the current half-year / 180 days of the Shenzhou spacecraft to 2-3 years. In addition, the new spacecraft also uses reusable technology, and the return cabin has also been repeated. In use, the reduced return cabin exhibited at the current air show is marked with a reusable metal structure. The repeated use of the return cabin can reduce the cost of using the spacecraft and the operating cost of manned spaceflight.

China Aerospace closely follows the development trend of international manned spaceflight, and the development of a new generation of multi-purpose spacecraft has already started. In 2014, the official media mentioned that China Aerospace is developing a new generation of manned spacecraft. From the interview with Zhang Bainan, the chief designer of the Chinese manned spacecraft system, it can be speculated that the development of a new generation of spacecraft began after the Shenzhou-10 mission. This new generation of spacecraft called "multipurpose spaceship" will be a new model that takes into account both manned and cargo tasks, with stronger personnel and cargo transportation capabilities, and can better support the operation of the space station.

In fact, a new generation of spacecraft had been publicly unveiled. When the Long March 7 rocket made its first flight in 2016, the main load was the shrinkage return module of the new generation multi-purpose spacecraft. On June 26, 2016, the multi-purpose spacecraft lifted off by the Long March VII returned to the recovery site of the cabin, and the bell-shaped inverted cone. Although there has been little news since then, the development of a new generation of spacecraft had been advancing rapidly.

New technologies are used in the return phase. A new generation of manned spacecraft returns using group umbrella pneumatic deceleration and airbag landing buffer technology. The test ship carried 2 deceleration umbrellas and 3 main umbrellas. After the return cabin entered the atmosphere and reached the specified altitude, they opened in turn, reducing the speed of the return cabin from "aircraft flight speed" to "vehicle urban driving speed". Before landing, the six airbags are inflated and opened to help the cabin to land smoothly and softly, and to ensure the safe and complete recovery of the return cabin. This is also different from Shenzhou. Shenzhou spacecraft uses a reverse thrust small rocket to slow down before landing, and the use of airbags to "soft land" will further reduce the impact of the spacecraft and astronauts.

In April 2018, the media reported that a new generation of spacecraft returned to the cabin for airbag landing buffer test. Official sources said that the weight of the return cabin reached 7 tons, which is almost comparable to a Shenzhou spaceship! In October 2018, the International Astronautical Congress was held in Bremen, Germany, and the news of the new generation of spacecraft is clearer-detailed design is currently under way, and it is expected to break through the key technologies of the spacecraft.

According to existing reports, the new generation of manned spacecraft will be divided into a near-earth version and a lunar version. The former weighs 14 tons and the latter weighs up to 20 tons. The difference between them is that the lunar version will use a larger service cabin. Accommodating more propellants, thereby providing more speed increments to meet the needs of manned missions to the moon.

The trial version of the new-generation manned spaceship was a shuttle spacecraft to test the feasibility of multiple tasks during the future operation of China's new space station and manned lunar exploration. The new-generation manned spaceship has a much better thermal resistance than the Shenzhou spacecraft. The new manned spaceship resists temperatures up to 3,000 C, which is two to three times higher than what the Shenzhou spacecraft can resist. As a manned moonship, it is also very light in weight. The thermal resistance layer was domestically designed from material to structure. The previous thermal resistant materials were not ideal and overlapped with the same products designed by other countries. Therefore, the overall plan has been overturned.

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