China successfully launched its Next Generation Crew Spacecraft – Test Ship (XZF-SC Xinyidai Zairen Feichuan – Shiyan Chuan) on three-day test mission in unmanned condition on a Long March 5B from the Wenchang Sat Launch Centre, Hainan Island, at 1000 GMT on 5 May. The name of the  spacecraft has yet to be formally announced. The new 21.6 metric ton, 3.3m diameter, conical spacecraft’s life support systems and re-entry capability were tested on the mission was was its orbital change capability.


Long March 5B in flight carrying new Chinese human carrying spacecraft (in unmanned condition). Courtesy: Weibo/China Pictorial

Update on 6 May 2020: While the main part of the mission went right, there were other problems. The launch also carried the CASIC-built Rouxing Chongqi Shihuowu Fanhui Cang – Shiyan Cang (Flexible Inflatable Cargo Return Module – Test Module) which re-entered at circa 0500 GMT on 6 May. However, initial reports are that the inflatable section of the test did not work as planned and burned up, albeit protecting the canister section.

Update on 8 May 2020: The unmanned Next Generation Crew Spacecraft made a successful re-entry and landing on 8 May near the Jiuquan Space Centre in the Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia.

China’s new space capsule for crew landed in unmanned condition successfully – apparently near a Chinese Flag. Courtesy: NewsCN

Update on 26 May 2020: The launch has become internationally controversial as the core stage of the Long March 5B re-entered in an uncontrolled way after passing over the USA, and debris hit the Ivory Coast. Full Story here.