Chinese capsule misses return to Earth

The return to Earth of a Chinese cargo space capsule ended on Wednesday after a failure after an “anomaly” during the operation, authorities announced.

The experimental device had been sent into space Tuesday with a new spacecraft which should return to Earth on Friday.

“An anomaly occurred today during the return,” soberly announced the Chinese agency responsible for manned flights (CMS).

“The experts are analyzing the data,” she said on her website without giving details.

As its name suggests, this cargo capsule is not designed to transport astronauts, but only equipment.

Its disintegration is a disappointment for the Chinese space program. But not really a major failure, because the device, designed by the Casic company, is still very experimental.

The capsule was fitted with an “inflatable” heat shield. This type of structure, also tested by American and European agencies, aims to eventually replace the classic heat shields in metals and refractory materials – heavier and which allow to embark less material.

But this technology is far from being perfected and is still in the testing phase by the main space powers.

A failure of the spacecraft's return on Friday would be much more serious, since Chinese engineers are supposed to have mastered the classic reentries to Earth for many years.

The cargo ship and the spacecraft were launched on Tuesday with a Long March 5B rocket, the most powerful ever used by China and which will allow to transport the elements of the future Chinese space station.

The assembly in space of this station named Tiangong (“Celestial Palace”), should begin this year and be completed in 2022.

China had already experienced two failures this year during satellite launches in March and April.