China to launch moon astronauts' new spacecraft for 1st time in 2027 or 2028

a silver space capsule sits in a museum surrounded by other pieces of space hardware
China's next-generation spacecraft, which flew once to space in May 2020, is seen on display for the first time at the Airshow China 2021 in Zhuhai City in the Guangdong province on Oct. 1, 2021. (Image credit: CCTV)

China is planning to launch a next-generation crewed spacecraft around 2027 that will be capable of carrying astronauts to the moon and even beyond.

"In the future, a new generation of spacecraft will be used on crewed lunar missions, to build our space station and for deep-space exploration," Yang Liwei, deputy chief designer of China's human spaceflight program, said during a talk at a university on Tuesday (July 18), Reuters reported, citing the state-run Guangzhou Daily.

Yang said the first flights are estimated to take place between 2027 and 2028. China tested a boilerplate version of the spacecraft in 2020 as part of a test launch for lofting space station modules. The return capsule from the test has since been put on display.

Related: China plans to put astronauts on the moon before 2030

The new spacecraft is part of China’s plan to put a pair of astronauts on the moon by 2030. The spacecraft will be partially reusable, and a new rocket, recently designated as the Long March 10, is being developed to launch the spacecraft.

The deep-space version of the spacecraft will be able to carry three astronauts into lunar transfer orbit, while a low Earth orbit variant will be able to transport four to seven astronauts to China’s newly completed Tiangong space station

Artist's illustration of astronauts on the moon planting a Chinese flag. (Image credit: 3DSculptori/Stock/Getty Images)

China currently uses the Shenzhou spacecraft to send up to three astronauts to low Earth orbit. Yang in 2003 became the country’s first astronaut in orbit, aboard the Shenzhou 5 mission.

The crew of Shenzhou 16 are currently aboard Tiangong. The three astronauts arrived at the station on May 30 for a roughly six-month stay.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for 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.