China Launches the Core Module of Its New Space Station

Early on Thursday, a Long March 5B rocket – currently the most powerful of China’s space launch vehicles – blasted off from Wenchang, carrying the first major component of an ambitious new modular space station.

The station module, dubbed Tianhe (Harmony of the Heavens), marks the next big step in China’s human spaceflight program in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Barred from participating in the International Space Station (ISS) by US law, which forbids cooperation in space between the two countries, China has been developing its own LEO capabilities for over a decade now.

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China’s Super-Heavy Lift Rocket Will Carry 100 Tons to the Moon

China’s proposed next-generation rocket reached the final stage of feasibility studies this month. The planned launch vehicle, known as the Long March-9, will be capable of sending 100 tons to the Moon, and could see its first launch as early as 2030.

Announced in 2018, the Long March-9 will play a key role in China’s long-term space ambitions. If all goes as planned, its first payload is likely to be a Martian sample return mission, and it would support China’s Lunar ambitions as well. Another proposed use for the super-heavy lift vehicle is to build an experimental space-based solar power station, although plans for that project are still very tentative.

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Chang’e-5 Brought Home 1.7 Kilograms of Lunar Samples

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander retrieved about 1.7 kilograms (3.81 pounds) of samples from the Moon, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).  The Chang’e-5 sample return capsule landed in China’s Inner Mongolia region on December 16, 2020, successfully capping a 23-day odyssey that brought back the first lunar rocks since 1976.

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Chinese Spacecraft Dock in Lunar Orbit for Transfer of Moon Samples – Next Stop, Earth!

Two robotic Chinese spacecraft have docked in lunar orbit for the first time ever, in preparation for sending samples from the Moon to Earth.

The lunar ascent module for China’s Chang’e-5 mission was captured by the metal claws of the mission’s orbiter at 5:42 a.m. Beijing time December 6th (2142 UTC December 5th), the China National Space Administration reported.

Over the half-hour that followed, a canister containing lunar material was safely transferred to the orbiter’s attached Earth-return capsule. In the days ahead, the ascent module will be jettisoned, and the orbiter will fire its thrusters to carry the return capsule back toward Earth.

If all proceeds according to plan, the orbiter will drop off the return capsule for its descent to Inner Mongolia sometime around December 16th, with the exact timing dependent on the mission team’s analysis of the required trajectory. That would mark the first return of fresh material from the Moon since the Soviet Luna 24 spacecraft accomplished the feat back in 1976.

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China’s Chang’e-5 Probe Is Off to Bring Back a Moon Sample — and NASA Hopes to See the Data

Chang'e-5 launch

China’s Chang’e-5 probe is on its way to the Moon for a mission that could bring back the first samples of lunar rocks and dirt in more than 40 years.

The 8.2-metric-ton spacecraft was sent into space from south China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center at 4:30 a.m. local time November 24th (20:30 Universal Time November 23rd) atop a Long March 5 rocket.

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China’s New Reusable Spaceplane Lands After 2 Days in Space

On Friday, Sept. 4th, China launched a new and mysterious spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The nature (and even appearance) of the spacecraft remains unknown, but according to statements made by Chinese authorities, it’s a reusable spaceplane. This vehicle is essentially China’s answer to the USAF/USSF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), which made its sixth launch to space (OTV-6) back in late-May.

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China’s First Mars Lander is Going to be Called “Tianwen”

Friday April 24th was China’s “Space Day,” celebrated on the 50 year anniversary of their first satellite launch. This past Friday, China marked the occasion with the announcement of the name for their first Mars Lander: Tianwen.

According to China’s National Space Administration (CNSA), Tianwen translates to “Quest for Heavenly Truth.”

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The Impact Site of China’s Longjiang-2 Spacecraft has Been Found on the Moon

On May 20th, 2018, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) launched the Queqiao spacecraft, the vehicle that would deliver the Chang’e-4 mission to the Moon. This vehicle was also responsible for transporting a lesser-known mission to the Moon, known as the Longjiang twin spacecraft. This package consisted of two satellites designed to fly in formation and validate technologies for low-frequency radio astronomy.

While Queqiao flew beyond the Moon to act as a communications relay for the Chang’e-4 lander, the Longjiang satellites were to enter orbit around the moon. On July 31st, 2019, after more than a year in operation, the Longjiang-2 satellite deorbited crashed on the lunar surface. And thanks to efforts spacecraft tracker Daniel Estévez and his colleagues, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was able to photograph the impact site.

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China’s Tiangong 2 was Destroyed Last Week, Burning up in the Atmosphere Over the South Pacific Ocean

On Friday, July 19th, China’s Tiangong-2 (“Heavenly Palace”) space laboratory successfully entered Earth’s atmosphere under controlled conditions and burned up above the South Pacific Ocean. This marked the successful completion of all of Tiangong-2’s tasks, which constituted China’s second attempt at testing their capability to conduct research and human operations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

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