The new launch vehicles are designed to enable China to carry out short-term moon landings until 2030 and send large infrastructure to the moon in the 2030s, respectively.
Although the Chinese government has not officially approved a crewed moon landing, work on the necessary program is already underway, with space figures and the country’s state media open about their lunar ambitions.
Work on the rockets – a new-generation crewed launch vehicle and a super-heavy launch vehicle known as the “Super-Heavy Launch Vehicle” – is progressing smoothly, according to Chen Xiaofei, general design officer at China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a major institute under China’s top space contractor, in an interview with state media China Central Television.
The new crewed launch vehicle is also informally called CZ5DY, as the initials CZ stand for the Chinese name Long March and DY stand for “dengyue” or moon landing.
The rocket is based on technology and rigging developed for the heavy Long March 5 rockets that launched the Chinese space station modules, the Mars mission and the return of lunar samples.
A two-stage version of the rocket to launch a new generation into low Earth orbit is planned for a test flight in 2026. A tri-nuclear, three-stage variant capable of launching 27 metric tons into translunar orbit is scheduled to launch later this decade.
The kerosene-fueled rocket will use clusters from upgraded versions of the existing YF-100 engine, and the launch vehicle is also planned to be reusable. Last year, CALT officials said that two rocket launches could provide a six-hour stay on the lunar surface.
The Long March 9 will have a payload capacity of around 140 tonnes in LEO and will launch elements for the planned International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) jointly planned by China and Russia.
CCTV did not provide details on the progress made. However, earlier this month, CALT announced the completion of structural testing related to the CZ5DY, and testing of titanium engine components for the launch vehicle took place in April.
The progress update comes after China recorded 103 consecutive successful launches of the Long March rocket, surpassing the previous record of 102 launched between 1996 and 2011.
Chen also said that the first reusable CALT rocket, presumably the Long March 8, will complete the relevant flight tests during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).
The Global Times, a Beijing-based tabloid, published scathing opinions on Aug. 21 about the respective successes, approaches, and motivations of the American and Chinese plans for crewed lunar exploration.
Space observers also noted that while NASA is struggling to revive the glory of Apollo, China is working on innovative plans to launch its own crewed missions to the Moon
. Nelson, in which he stated that China would occupy the Moon, and argued that China was paying more attention to technological readiness in a fairly broad timeframe, moving forward steadily and confidently, rather than “American practice of setting specific dates for the year.”
The Global Times quoted Wang Yannan, editor-in-chief of the Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine: “China’s crewed moon landing is more in line with scientific principles, but NASA could become more hostile to China in space given the enormous pressure it is under to maintain its global leadership in lunar exploration”, in response to a question about the possibility of a new space race.
Both the United States and China are planning to land robots and crews on the south pole of the moon in the coming years as part of their respective Artemis and ILRS programs.
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