During a video presentation introducing a number of next-generation development projects, China gave the world its first look at the spacecraft that will transport taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) to the Moon and beyond.
The as-yet-unnamed spacecraft is being developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), a state-owned spacecraft and satellite manufacture. It is comprised of a crew module and service a module and is approximately 9 meters (30 feet) tall in launch configuration.
Once in service, the spacecraft will be capable of venturing beyond low Earth orbit with a crew of four to six taikonauts. Its modular design will enable the spacecraft to be configured for a number of different applications enabling it to support a variety of missions.
Although the service module is expected to be expendable, the crew module is reportedly partial reusable. This will likely mean that the module will undergo at least some refurbishment before being launched in service of a second mission. There are currently no reports hinting at the number of missions a single crew module may support during its service tenure.
The spacecraft will likely initially be used to ferry taikonauts to the Chinese Space Station, the first module of which is expected to be launched in 2020. However, Chinese officials have already confirmed that the country is planning to undertake its own missions to the Moon and beyond, which will likely be undertaken aboard the next-generation spacecraft.
It is currently unclear when China expects to launch the spacecraft on its maiden mission or what launch vehicle will be used for the mission. Currently, China makes use of the Long March 2F to launch crewed missions aboard the Soyuz-derived Shenzhou spacecraft. However, the 2F is only capable of launching payloads of up to 8,400 kilograms, well short of the next-generation Chinese spacecraft’s maximum launch mass of 20,000 kilograms.