Spaceflight Insider

China launches Tianzhou-2 cargo craft to new space station

Tianzhou-2 launches into space atop a Long March 7 rocket. Credit: CASC

Tianzhou-2 launches into space atop a Long March 7 rocket. Credit: CASC

Just a month after launching the first part of its multi-module Tiangong space station, China has sent a cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-2, to the fledgling outpost.

Liftoff atop a Long March 7 rocket took place at 8:55 a.m. EDT (12:55 UTC / 8:55 p.m. China Standard Time) May 29, 2021, from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China. This was after the first attempt on May 19 UTC was called off because of “technical reasons.” A second attempt on May 20 was also scrubbed.

After a roughly 10 minute ascent into orbit, the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship began its chase of the Tianhe core module, which was launched April 29.

Aboard the 9-meter-long spacecraft is nearly 5,000 kilograms of cargo for the Tiangong space station — about three months worth of cargo for the upcoming crewed Shenzhou 12 mission, slated to launch as early as June 10.

Shenzhou 12 is slated to carry three Chinese astronauts or “taikonauts” to the outpost for several months. Aboard is expected to be Nie Haisheng, Deng Qingming and Ye Guangfu.

The cargo spacecraft is based on the design of the first two early Chinese space stations, which were called Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2. Tianzhou-1 launched and docked autonomously to Tiangong-2 in 2017 to test fuel transfer techniques.

Tianzhou-2 docked with Tianhe at 5:01 p.m. EDT (21:01 UTC) and is expected to remain there for most of the duration of the Shenzhou 12 mission.

It’ll undock before Shenzhou 12 leaves and autonomously re-dock before Shenzhou 13 arrives, likely in October, with another set of crew members to test additional refueling techniques.

According to NASASpaceflight, during the Shenzhou 13 mission, it is expected that the robotic arm on Tianhe will test its ability to relocate modules by moving Tianzhou-2 to another port.

This is a key technique that will be required when two additional laboratory modules are launched to the outpost in 2022.

Just like most cargo spacecraft departing the International Space Station, at the conclusion of the Tianzhou-2 mission, it’ll be loaded with trash and unneeded equipment and commanded to destructively reenter Earth’s atmosphere.

Video courtesy of SciNews

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Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.

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