China to the Moon... Jul 12, 2006 0:01:32 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Jul 12, 2006 0:01:32 GMT -6
Lunar Touchdown For China
The year 2024 has been slated as a possible date for China's first manned mission to the moon in most reports, although some caution needs to be exercised. Were Chinese officials misquoted? Is this a landing date, or merely the date for starting work on a manned lunar program?
Does this refer to circumlunar missions, orbital flights or an actual landing? Mistranslations of earlier reports on Chinese lunar missions previously suggested that the Chinese would land astronauts on the moon in 2017. It was later explained that this date referred to robotic landings, and that reports had been misinterpreted.
So caution needs to be exercised with specific details, especially dates and times of missions. But the report seems to reinforce perceptions that China is serious about sending astronauts on the moon. At some point, this will presumably lead to a landing. Regardless of the accuracy of these recent translations or reporting, a landing in 2024 does seem feasible, if China maintains a steady pace of missions and hardware development.
How could China land astronauts on the moon? It's slowly assembling the elements in an incremental form. The Shenzhou orbital spacecraft would probably play an important role, just as the Russian Soyuz was originally expected to support lunar missions. Shenzhou could be sent on circumlunar or orbital missions. Later, it could perform an "mother ship" role in lunar orbit while a Chinese lunar module touches down.
China will also need large boosters to support a landing mission. Earlier this year, reports suggested that the development of the Long March 5 series of rockets, which will outstrip any previous Chinese vehicles in lifting capacity, has been officially sanctioned.
Long March 5 rockets could potentially hurl modified Shenzhou spacecraft on circumlunar missions, or possibly orbital flights. But their capacity will still not match the Saturn 5, which could launch two spacecraft together on a landing mission.
China will probably use some form of Earth Orbit Rendezvous strategy for a landing, and may also elect to do this for a circumlunar mission. Separate launches will deliver hardware such as Shenzhou vehicles, landers and rocket stages to boost the spacecraft out of Earth orbit. The docking practice obtained by the upcoming Shenzhou 8, 9 and 10 missions should provide much groundwork for such a flight.
I wonder if they will sight the any of the Apollo areas.