China May Use Existing Rocket to Speed Up Moon Landing

Could China beat the US to sending humans to the Moon by repurposing its Long March 5?
Ameya Paleja
Space probe of Tianwen-1 Mission launched on Long March 5 rocket.China News Service/Wikimedia Commons

China's space ambitions are not classified information. Just a few weeks ago, we reported how the country wants to build 'Megaships' in space that will stretch for miles when combined. While that might be a distant dream, for now, the country seems to be planning on accelerating its Moon Landing mission by using repurposing its Long March 5 rocket, a Hong Kong-based news site reported recently. 

As part of the Artemis Program, NASA plans on sending a crewed mission to the Moon by 2024. The program is a stepping stone for deep space exploration and sending crewed missions to Mars in the near future. Having collected samples from the far side of the lunar surface and brought them back on Earth, China has also declared its intentions to send humans to Mars by 2033. Prior to that, it wants to make an outpost on the Southern Pole of the Moon by 2030, and to do that, it needs a rocket powerful enough to carry the payload. 

For a while, it was believed that the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) was developing the Long March 9 for the Moon Landing Mission, and since most components are still under testing, the first flight was expected to take place only in 2030. In what seems like a bid to accelerate the mission, CNSA is likely to repurpose its current workhorse, the Long March 5, for the Moon Landing as well. 

Speaking at the National Youth Science and Technology Competition, Long Lehao, an expert in launch vehicles, reportedly said that the improved Long March 5 is being called Long March-5DY. While NASA is planning to deploy the Space Launch System Block 2, with a carrying capacity of 46 tons for this, the Long March has a relatively smaller capacity of eight tons for an Earth-Moon transfer orbit. Therefore, CNSA could use two different rockets to achieve its mission objectives. 

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The first rocket would be used to send a lunar lander around the moon, while the second one would launch the crew of two astronauts. Once there, the crew would be transferred to the lander, which would then descend to the lunar surface and then spend a few hours on the Moon. Later, a part of the lander would be used to ascend back to the orbiting spacecraft, where the crew would be transferred back to safely return to the Earth. 

Long's statements do not necessarily reflect the views of the CNSA. Wu Yanhua, the deputy director of CNSA and deputy commander of lunar exploration does not see a point in a space "race", the website reported. The lunar mission must "serve scientific research, service to explore the unknown" Yanhua is reported to have said last year.

We will eventually see if the country's outlook has changed. China will now enter the last phase of its Lunar Exploration Project where it plans to establish an autonomous robotic research station on the South Pole starting 2024.

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