Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Architect of China’s New-generation Spaceship Reveals Process of Design
Global Times
2020/5/23 15:23:40

Zhang Bainan Photo: cnsphoto

The successful return of the trial version of China's new-generation manned spaceship capsule to the Dongfeng landing site in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on May 8 marked another milestone of the China's space station program and a step closer to sending astronauts to the moon.

Zhang Bainan, chief designer of the trial version of China's new-generation manned spaceship, witnessed the success with his team members at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Zhang was born in June 1962 in Qiqihar of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. He has consistently read Aerospace Knowledge, a science popularization magazine, since his junior high school years.

He once wrote in his diary that his dream job was working in airplane design.

All the majors he applied for after high school were aerospace-related. Growing up, he was called a "nerd" by his classmates.

After studying solid mechanics at the National University of Defense Technology, Zhang obtained his master's degree in spacecraft design from China Academy of Space Technology in 1987. Ten years later, he was appointed as deputy chief designer of China's manned spaceship. Zhang is quite content he has achieved a harmonious balance between his passion and career.

Shoot for the moon

Although the meteorological condition in the landing site was not perfect, with a big horizontal wind speed, the capsule landed standing like a champion gymnast. "Somebody said the capsule hit the center ring, which is perfect," said Zhang.

The trial version of the new-generation manned spaceship is a shuttle spacecraft to test the feasibility of multiple tasks during the future operation of China's new space station and manned lunar exploration.

According to Zhang, the new-generation manned spaceship has a much better thermal resistance than the Shenzhou spacecraft. The new manned spaceship resists temperatures up to 3,000 C, which is two to three times higher than what the Shenzhou spacecraft can resist.

As a manned moonship, it is also very light in weight. The thermal resistance layer was domestically designed from material to structure.

Zhang said the previous thermal resistant materials were not ideal and overlapped with the same products designed by other countries. Therefore, the overall plan has been overturned. "It is fair to say that thermal resistant material design in China has surpassed the US," he added.

"In developing the new-generation manned spaceship, it feels obvious that China has significantly improved its manufacturing of spacecraft, especially if you compare our latest efforts with the Shenzhou spacecraft," said Zhang. China's aerospace technology level is cutting-edge in the world, and the development of many other spacecraft and satellites benefited from improvements in our manufacturing ability, he added.

Transfer pressure into motivation

One of the purposes of the new-generation spaceship trial is to test the performance of the Long March 5B rocket to improve the precision in the follow-up autonomous control and return.

Because the capsule of the new-generation spaceship is twice as heavy as that of Shenzhou, it imposed more requirements in landing. Shenzhou used the world's biggest parachute, and it was unfeasible to add another one to the new spaceship. Therefore, Zhang and his team replaced the parachute with a parachute combination comprised of three parachutes, which proved successful.

During an interview with CCTV in March 2019, Zhang said he was doing something that had never been done by anyone else as he had previously followed other countries' experience which was less risky and led to a higher success rate. Now that China's aerospace technology is approaching the world's advanced level, its designers are facing more decisive risks.

"We are facing great pressure, so I am also exploring ways for the young people in my teams," he said. "Sometimes, I feel worried about whether they can survive the pressure, but we encourage each other a lot in the team," he said.

"One of my college classmates chose to work in the US, and he had quite a fancy life in the first few years with a big house and three vehicles. I had not owned a single car at that time," said Zhang. "When I was young, I might have valued a house and fancy cars, but as I grew older I started to answer differently the question of what I've achieved in my life."

Zhang said he strongly believes working on manned spacecraft is something meaningful that brings him a sense of achievement. "Manned space flight is a dream career, and my dream is to make the Chinese people travel farther," he said.

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