BEIJING • China’s new prototype spacecraft “successfully landed” yesterday, marking an important step in the country’s ambitions to run a permanent space station and send astronauts to the Moon.
The spacecraft – which was launched on Tuesday – arrived safely at a predetermined site, the China Manned Space Agency said, after a hitch in an earlier part of the key test.
It said the cabin structure of the spacecraft had been confirmed on site as being intact.
The test vessel was launched with a cargo capsule aboard a new type of carrier rocket from the Wenchang launch site in the southern island province of Hainan.
The space agency said the vessel was in orbit for two days and 19 hours and had completed a number of experiments.
The return has verified the spacecraft’s capabilities, such as its heat resistance; vehicles re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere face high temperatures.
It is hoped the spaceship will one day transport astronauts to a space station that China plans to complete by 2022, and eventually to the Moon. The new prototype expands the number of crew that can be sent into space to six from three in an earlier model.
Yesterday’s safe landing follows a snag in an earlier part of the test when an unspecified “anomaly” occurred during the return of the cargo capsule, which was designed to transport equipment.
The completion of the experiment had involved the maiden flight of the Long March 5B rocket, and came after two previous failures: The Long March 7A malfunctioned in March while the Long March 3B failed to take off early last month.
Observers said the successful mission marks a milestone for China. Mr Andrew Jones, who reports on China’s space activities for the SpaceNews website, said the country can “move ahead with its space station plans, and the first module may now launch in early 2021”.
The Long March 5B rocket lifting off from the Wenchang launch site in the southern island province of Hainan on Tuesday. The successful mission marks a milestone for China, said observers. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE