Is China Planning Test of Human Lunar Vehicle?

shenzhou1Toward the end of the year, China will launch a spacecraft to the moon that will return for a soft landing on Earth.  Officially, this is a test of a ship that will return soil samples from the moon, but Morris Jones suspects there’s more to it than that:

This analyst also suspects that China is also testing technology for a future Chinese astronaut launch to the Moon. The re-entry capsule is a scale replica of the capsule used on China’s Shenzhou astronaut spacecraft.

China has not released a lot of information on the mission, and has not even revealed any diagrams or photographs of the entire spacecraft. We have seen the re-entry module in photographs, but little else….

We believed that China would fly this mission in a free-return trajectory to the Moon. This meant that the spacecraft would fly around the far side of the Moon and use the Moon’s gravity to sling it back to Earth.

This mission profile was used by the Soviet Union’s “Zond” lunar probes, which were themselves tests for a cosmonaut launch to the Moon that never happened. A free-return trajectory was also used to bring the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission back to Earth.

Recently, a story published by China’s state news agency Xinhua gave a different perspective. It claims that the spacecraft will actually enter orbit around the Moon.

Read the full story.