The Tianzhou 1 spacecraft fastened atop the Long March 7 rocket is carrying several tons of fuel and new automatic docking equipment to test how China plans to resupply its planned space station, which could begin assembly in orbit as soon as next year with the launch of a massive core section. The event is broadcast live by China Central Television (CCTV).
For this mission, the unpiloted 28,700 pounds (13,000 kilogram) Tianzhou-1 spacecraft will rendezvous with the Chinese Tiangong-2 space station, which launched in September 2017.
The four vacuum-optimized engines produced a combined 161,880 pounds-force (720 kilonewtons) of thrust in order to deliver the almost 29,000-pound (13,000-kilogram) Tianzhou-1 to low-Earth orbit.
China is set to launch its first cargo spacecraft between April 20 and 24, an official statement said on Monday.
China will launch its first cargo spacecraft tomorrow to dock with the orbiting experimental space station, authorities said today.
Crews on China's space station will need fresh equipment, experiments and other supplies during long-duration missions. "If we succeed, then the docking of manned spacecraft and cargo spacecraft will use this technology".
Above: Tianzhou-1, with the docking mechanism visible, left, undergoing work in North China (CMSA).
During the next two months, the spacecraft will make three docking attempts with the Tiangong-2 space station, a smaller prototype for a larger station China intends to build during the coming decade.
The mission will be tracked via Tianlian data relay satellites placed in geostationary orbit for Shenzhou, Tiangong and space station-related missions. It has been created to stay in space for up to three months.
Measuring 10.6 meters in length and up to 3.35 meters in diameter, the tube-like Tianzhou-1 can carry over 6 tonnes of cargo.
A close-up view of the payload fairing containing the spacecraft. The three-part modular design of the Tiangong II space lab is based on Russia's Mir space station, which was in orbit until 2001.
"This time Tianzhou-1 will separate from Tiangong-2's backward port and then fly around it to dock from the forward port to examine the docking ability".
The spacecraft can carry 6 tonnes of goods, 2 tonnes of fuel and can fly unmanned for three months, state media said.Despite the advances in its space programme for military, commercial and scientific purposes, China still lags behind the United States and Russian Federation.
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