PICTURE EXCLUSIVE: China starts manned Moon mission planning

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Concept studies for a Chinese manned Moon mission are under way and a 60,000kg (132,000lb) three-crew space station concept that would operate from 2020 has been finalised.

The Moon mission studies are at an early phase. The China Manned Space Engineering programme delegation to the International Astronautical Congress in Daejeon, South Korea has emphasised that there is no timeframe for a manned landing. China Manned Space Engineering programme deputy general designer Wang Zhonggui says: "The Moon is still far away for our technology."

NASA's Saturn V could put 118,000kg into low Earth orbit, but the Long March 5, which will be China's most powerful ever rocket, will only achieve 20,000kg when it flies from 2015.

this image is a reproduction of a china manned space engineering programme concept image of a three module 60,000kg chinese space station that could be in orbit by 2020
©Flight/ China Manned Space Engineering

This exclusive image is the latest concept of China's planned 60,000kg space station

The space station's three 20,000kg modules will be launched individually by the Long March 5 from the new Hainan launch site. Once completed the station will orbit for 10 years at up to 450km (279 miles) altitude in an orbital plane of 42°. Its assembly will follow a three-crew space laboratory expected to be launched in 2015, which in turn will follow a 2011 docking and rendezvous flight test involving an unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft and China's Tiangong target vehicle.

Zhonggui expects a series of two to three Tiangongs to fly. Its structure will also be the basis for a space station resupply spacecraft and it will be used to test life support technology for the laboratory and station.

Zhonggui was accompanied during his visit by Zhai Zhigang, China's first spacewalker, who conducted his extra-vehicular activity during the Shenzhou 7 mission in September 2008.