China's new Long March 5 rocket could one day launch astronauts according to the country's manned space programme head Zhou Jianping.
Long March 5 is described by Chinese authorities as being environmentally friendly because it uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellants, Today China's astronauts are launched on the Long March 2F, which like other Chinese rockets uses toxic hypergolic propellants.
Planned to be in-service by 2015 the Long March 5 is expected to have an EADS Astrium Ariane 5-like payload capability of about 20,000kg (44,000lb) to low Earth orbit. As well as satellite payload missons, according to Zhou, Long March 5 will also launch space station modules for a Chinese LEO outpost.
And through his translator Zhou added that: "China's target is to use the safe and environmentally friendly [Long March 5] rocket to take the place of the old type rocket. For manned space it is this case and we will take into consideration when it reaches a certain level of reliability."
While speaking to Flight at the Space Foundation's 25th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs Zhou also explained that the next mission for China's man rated Shenzhou spacecraft will be unmanned. In the first quarter of 2011 Shenzhou-8 will dock with the target vehicle Tiangong-1, which will be launched end of 2010. Zhou explained that Shenhzou-8 would not be manned due to "reservations for safety" of the astronauts.
According to Zhou Tiangong-1 will be launched for a two-year mission. As well as Shenzhou-8 it will dock with the missions -9 and -10. After Shenzhou-8 lands back on Earth the ninth mission will be launched. The decision to make nine or ten a manned mission will depend on the success of Shenzhou-8 and -9, respectively.
He confirmed that previous media reports of Shenzhou-8 making up a space laboratrory by docking with Tiangong are incorrect. Zhou described Tiangong as a "very small" spacecraft.
He described Shenzhou-7 as laying a "foundation" for the future with its successful extra-vehicular activity and that the space programme had a continual improvement culture for both spacesuit and spacecraft. The Chinese spacesuit has 40kilopascals (5.8psi) of internal pressure and for space walks China is to use the two astronaut concept of operations adopted by the USA and Russia. Asked about the use of a Russian Orlan suit Zhou replied that using different space suits is good for international cooperation.