Chinese Crewed Capsules

Chinese crewed capsules

China became the third nation to launch and retrieve a human being. This occurred in 2003 onboard the Shenzhou spacecraft launched on top of a Long March 2F rocket. China has conducted several missions to LEO and to their space station. At the moment the country is working towards a new generation crewed capsule which is expected to be able to fly lunar missions. 


Operator: CNSA

Mission:  Bring astronauts to LEO

First flight:  1999 (uncrewed), 2003 (crewed)

Status:  Active

The Chinese Shenzhou capsule is in many aspects, quite similar to the Soyuz capsule. Not only in the design of the capsule but also the parachute system seems to be heavily influenced by the Soyuz. At 10 km two pilot chutes remove the back thermal cover, followed by the deployment of the drogue parachute. For a safe landing, it uses a single main parachute. The main parachute is of the Ringsail type, has an area of 1200 square meters and a mass of 90 kg. Interesting about the Shenzhou recovery system is that the capsule has a backup main parachute that is about one third the area of the main parachute. This system ensures a safe but rough landing in case of a main parachute failure. The parachutes of Shenzhou are deployed using an airbag system. The airbag fills up space within the storage compartment, pushing out the parachutes. 

New Chinese crewed capsule

Operator: CNSA

Mission:  Bring astronauts to LEO and beyond

First flight:  2020

Status: In development

New Chinese Crewed capsule under the main parachutes

New chinese crewed capsule landing after first flight

In May 2020 China launched its latest crewed space capsule on top of their new Long March 5B rocket. The capsule performed a mission much like the NASA Orion EFT-1, flight demonstrating the capsule's ability to change its orbit and perform a high-velocity re-entry. Preliminary data states the capsule re-entered with about 9 km/s, which would be comparable to a deep space crewed mission.  Not much is known about the capsule itself except for the pictures shared after the flight. It is known that the capsule uses a cluster of three parachutes combined with an airbag system for a safe landing. This by itself is quite a change from the earlier Shenzhou capsules.