China's First Cargo Spacecraft ‘Tianzhou-1’ Docks With ‘Tiangong-2’ Space Lab

First Posted: Apr 24, 2017 05:10 AM EDT

China's first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 has successfully docked with the Tiangong-2 orbiting space laboratory. The event marks an important step toward China’s goal of establishing a permanently crewed station by 2022.

According to the official report by Xinhua news agency, the Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft docked at 12:23 p.m. local time on April 22. The spacecraft had taken off during the evening of April 20 from China’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan.

Deccan Chronicle reported that Tianzhou-1 provides an important technological basis to develop a Chinese space station. The tube-like cargo spacecraft, which measures 10.6 meters in length, can transport 6 tonnes (6,000 kg) of goods and 2 tonnes (2,000 kg) of fuel. Moreover, the spacecraft can fly unmanned for three months.

The unmanned cargo ship will remain docked with the orbiting space lab for two months, where it will carry out several months of robotic demonstrations. Once Tianzhou-1’s mission on the station is over, it will detach and orbit the Earth to carry out various additional experiments for three months before landing back on the planet.

According to a Zee News report, there will be two more dockings for the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft with Tiangong-2 space lab during the course of the experiments. The second docking will aim to test the spacecraft’s ability to dock with a future space station from other directions. During the third docking, Tianzhou-1 will take the help of a fast-docking technology that will take only six hours as compared to normal docking that takes around two days.

Incidentally, the Tiangong-2 space laboratory, whose name means the Heavenly Palace 2, hosted two astronauts for the duration of a month in October last year, in 2016. It was the longest ever crewed space mission by China. Tiangong-2 serves as an experimental station for China’s goal of launching a much larger crewed space station into orbit by 2022.

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