Chinese rocket designers have said the country's new rocket for sending astronauts to the moon could be ready for a test flight in 2027.
A scaled-down version of the new rocket, referred to as the next-generation crew launch vehicle, is on display at the ongoing 14th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, or Zhuhai Airshow, in southern China.
The launch vehicle will be 295 feet (90 meters) tall and have a mass at takeoff of 463,000 pounds (210,000 kilograms). It will be capable of launching 59,500 pounds (27,000 kilograms) into lunar transfer orbit. It also features a launch escape system on top of its payload fairing.
"Our current largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5, can launch 8.2 tons into the Earth-to-moon transfer orbit. We need 27 tons to land on the moon. We are working to increase the width and thrust of our current rockets," Liu Bing, deputy director designer of Long March 5B at CALT, told CCTV in Zhuhai.
Two launches of the rocket could be used for a short-term crewed lunar landing mission, Long Lehao, a veteran Long March rocket designer at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), said in June 2021, according to SpaceNews.
The rocket is expected to make its first test flight in 2027, Zhao Xinguo, another CALT official present at the airshow, told CCTV.
The launcher has yet to be named, but is sometimes referred to unofficially as the Long March 5G, Long March 5DY (DY standing for "dengyue," or moon landing), or the 921 rocket.
A two-stage, single core version of the rocket is also being developed and will launch before the full-size variant. The smaller version could carry a new generation crew spacecraft — which had an uncrewed test flight in 2021 — to China's newly constructed Tiangong space station in Earth orbit.
It is unclear if Zhao was referring to the lunar or low Earth orbit version of the rocket regarding the 2027 test flight. Chinese officials have said that the low Earth orbit variant is slated for a first flight in 2026.
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Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.