China manned lunar mission landing gear
The lunar landing gear is being readied on rig to be dropped from a height, to test its effectiveness. =GT via China Defense Forum

Though China’s goal of landing a man on the moon is still more than a decade away, the country is already testing key equipment for the 2032 mission. Most recently, the program has been testing the landing gear for the lunar module.

The lunar module is the part of the manned spacecraft that will actually touch down on the moon’s surface. When used, the upper half of the module blasts back up into orbit to rendezvous with the orbiting command module.

Landing gear is a critical for a successful lunar mission. It needs to be able to brace the rest of the lander, as well as actively adjust to uneven terrain by manipulating its computer-controlled struts assemblies. Like the rest of the module, the landing gear needs to be shielded against thermal changes as well as be robust enough to handle the surface impact. (For context, the Apollo lunar module had a terminal speed of 7 feet per second). Since the landing gear is the only part of the module that will make actual contact with the lunar terrain, it may also contain instruments in the landing pads to gather scientific data on lunar soil.

China manned lunar mission landing gear

Big Foot Pad

This picture of a landing gear assembly on a lab test rig shows how big it is; the foot pad’s diameter is easily 2.5-3 feet.
Apollo Landing Gear

A Chip off the Old Block

A diagram of the Apollo’s Landing Module landing gear, which has the same arrangement as its Chinese counterpart coming some 50 years later, with a foot pad, three struts, and support trusses.

From available pictures, the deployed landing gear appears to be about 11-13 feet high with a diameter of 32-40 feet. That should be enough to encase the lower stage of the lander, and total lander mass of 20-25 tons. It looks a lot like the Apollo lander, actually, with four collapsible assemblies, each terminating at a footpad.

Each assembly consists of a primary strut extending from the lunar lander’s side, connected at its midpoint to two secondary struts running parallel to the ground. The secondary struts are connected to the lander itself by two truss side braces, with an X shaped deployment truss between the two side braces.

Lunar Landing Research Vehicle

Lunar Landing Research Vehicle

To prepare for landing on the moon, NASA trained the Apollo astronauts on this Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, which used the landing module landing gear to seat the astronaut, propellant tanks and engines. China is likely to use its lunar landing gear for similar training purposes.

The new landing gear is likely to be used for a Chinese equivalent to the NASA Lunar Landing Research Vehicle. This system will train taikonauts on Earth to land and maneuver the landing module, in addition to validating the technology behind the landing gear.

Long March 9 China heavy space rocket

Long March 9

Capable of carrying an eye watering 140 tons to low earth orbit (or 50 tons on a lunar bound course), the Long March 9 will be the world’s most powerful space launch rocket when it flies around 2030. It’ll be the workhorse not just for Chinese lunar missions, but beyond to Mars and elsewhere.

The Chinese manned lunar mission will be launched by the super heavy Long March 9 rocket, which has a low earth orbit payload of 140 tons, and a 50-ton payload for trans-lunar injection. With the continued investment in the program, we can expect more systems from the Chinese manned lunar mission to show up in the next decade, as the new space race heats up.

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