BEIJING, March 24 (Xinhua) -- A trial version of China's new-generation manned spaceship is being tested at the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the coast of south China's island province of Hainan, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
The experimental spacecraft is scheduled to launch with no crew in mid to late April on the maiden flight of the Long March-5B carrier rocket, a variant of the Long March-5, China's largest carrier rocket.
The development team is pulling out all the stops for the mission amid the coronavirus pandemic, said the CMSA.
The spacecraft is being developed for the operation of China's space station and future manned space exploration. It will be larger than China's current Shenzhou manned spaceship and reusable.
"The mission will test the key technologies of the new manned spaceship such as the control of its re-entry into the atmosphere, heat shielding and recovery technology," said Yang Qing, a designer of the spacecraft with the China Academy of Space Technology.
The mission will lay the foundation for the development of transport for future astronauts to China's space station, Yang said.
With a length of 8.8 meters and a takeoff weight of 21.6 tonnes, the spaceship will be able to carry six astronauts. It is designed for safety and reliability, and can adapt to multiple tasks.
It will be used in both low-Earth orbit and deep-space exploration. Flight in deep space requires a higher speed, and the structure and the heat shielding performance will be a challenge, said experts.
The development team used new materials and a new structure to make the heat shielding capacity three to four times greater than that of the Shenzhou spacecraft.
The new spacecraft comprises a service capsule and a return capsule. The return capsule is reusable and is expected to be reused around 10 times, making it very economical.
The upcoming mission will also test the landing process with multiple parachutes and airbags for safety.
The new spacecraft could carry a cargo payload up to 500 kg with a crew of three.
China has developed the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft for its space station, but it cannot return to Earth. The new spacecraft could return with cargoes such as scientific experiments samples and products made in space.