China is developing a new spacecraft that can carry astronauts to destinations at and beyond low Earth orbit, and can also be used on multiple missions. The vehicle is a crucial component of the country's future manned lunar mission.
Zhang Bonan, chief designer of China's space program, told Science and Technology Daily that China’s new spacecraft will adopt the most advanced technologies, and is expected to be launched no later than its foreign counterparts.
"Among all next-generation spacecraft developed by foreign countries, only America's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew vehicle is capable of transporting astronauts to the moon. Currently, the best spacecraft's carrying capacity allows six astronauts to enter low Earth orbit, while the number for manned moon missions is three to four. We hope our new spacecraft will exceed these standards," Zhang said.
Stressing the importance of the inaugural flight of the Long March-7 carrier rocket in 2016, Zhang noted that China has gained important experience in manned space flight.
"The launch of China’s first manned spacecraft comes 40 years later than those of its foreign counterparts. We hope the launch of our new manned spacecraft will keep pace with leading foreign powers," Zhang stated. Though authorities have not yet approved the project, research for the spacecraft is currently being carried out, so as to prevent China from lagging behind in the field, the designer added.
China has devoted a handsome sum of money to its space program in recent decades, seeking technological prowess and a position of leadership in the aerospace field. The country plans to launch its Tianzhou-1 unmanned cargo spacecraft in April, which will dock with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory.