Chinese Spaceship
Chinese taikonauts could enjoy a roomier spacecraft, this official concept from a CNSA feasibility study can carry up to six people, with an endurance time of over two years. Chinese Internet

While the Shenzhou space capsule has served the Chinese manned space program well for nearly 16 years (since the unmanned test flight in 1999), the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) is searching for a replacement. An October 2015 Chinese blog post showcased a detailed CNSA sponsored study for a post-Shenzhou spaceship.

China spacecraft new

To the Moon!

The 14 ton version would be used to conduct orbital missions, such as space station supply runs. The 20 ton version, with a larger propellant load, would be used to go to the Moon and other extraterrestrial missions.

Flying on future Chinese rockets like the Long March 5, 7, and 9, the study proposes a 2 to 6 person crewed capsule. The semi-conical reentry vessel would be attached to the propulsion and cargo sections in the service modules, similar in configuration to NASA’s Orion capsule. At 14 tons, the basic next generation spacecraft would have nearly double the mass of the 7.8-ton Shenzhou. For deep space missions to near Earth asteroids and the Moon, the next generation spacecraft would have a larger service module, for a total mass of 20 tons. Given improvements in Chinese materials science to strengthen the thermal shield against reentry heating, it is hoped that the crew capsule could be reused.

China Tiangong spaceship in space

Tiangong 3

This CGI of the Tiangong 3 space station shows three Tiangong space station modules, a Shenzhou manned module underneath and a Tianzhou automated resupply vehicle all docked together. The new Chinese spaceship would likely replace the Shenzhou in the 2020-2025 timeframe.

While the actual successor to the Shenzhou could look very different from the concepts in this feasibility studies, China is clearly planning to continue its manned space program well into the future. The modular and cost effective characteristics of this proposed space ship suggests that in addition to looking for more frequent, cheaper space missions, China also has its eyes on leaving terrestrial orbit. With increased crew slots on each spaceship, China could even start training and flying foreign taikonauts as part of a space diplomacy, a new branch in China’s soft power outreach.

You may also be interested in:

LM-6 Rocket’s First Space Launch Brings 20 Satellites into Space

China’s Long March 5 Rocket Stretches Its Legs

China’s Space Station gets a “Super Eye”

China’s Largest Ever Space Rocket Takes Another Step Forward

China Showcases Plan to become Leading Space Power