Tianzhou spacecraft launches, heads to space station

Tianzhou spacecraft launches, heads to space station

2021/07/05 09:49
Page view
Tianzhou 2, a robotic cargo ship, blasts off on a Long March 7 carrier rocket at the Wenchang Space Launch Centerin in Hainan, on May 29, 2021. [Photo by Tu Haichao/for]
Tianzhou 2, the first spacecraft to visit the recently deployed core module of China's Tiangong space station, was launched on Saturday evening and is scheduled to dock with the module soon.
Tianzhou 2, a robotic cargo ship, flew with a Long March 7 carrier rocket that blasted off around 8:50 pm at a coastal launchpad at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southernmost island province of Hainan.
After a 10-minute flight atop the 53-meter rocket, the craft entered a low-Earth orbit and soon unfolded its solar panels, entering the operational mode, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
The agency said the cargo ship will rendezvous and dock with the currently unmanned core module in a matter of hours and then conduct autonomous refueling and cargo placement operations.
The core module, named Tianhe, or Harmony of Heavens, was lifted by a Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket at the Wenchang launch center on April 29.
Now traveling in a rendezvous orbit waiting for Tianzhou 2, Tianhe has carried out a series of tests to verify its designs for rendezvous and docking maneuvers, astronaut accommodation as well as experimental equipment, said the manned space agency.
After their in-orbit connection, Tianzhou 2 will inject propellants into Tianhe and transfer necessities for the astronauts who will be stationed there.
Tianzhou 2, a robotic cargo ship, blasts off on a Long March 7 carrier rocket at the Wenchang Space Launch Centerin in Hainan, on May 29, 2021. [Photo by Guo Wenbin/for]
Hao Chun, director of the manned space agency, said previously that the Shenzhou XII spacecraft, carrying three astronauts, will launch and dock with the core module early next month. The crew will stay in the module for three months.
Tianzhou 2's launch was originally scheduled for the early morning of May 20, but mission commanders decided to postpone the launch shortly before the predetermined ignition time because a technical problem on the rocket was detected.
Over the past 10 days, engineers and technicians from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which designed and built the rocket, raced against time to pinpoint and solve the problem, according to the academy.
A Tianzhou cargo spaceship consists of two parts – a cargo cabin and a propulsion section. Such vehicle is 10.6 meters long and has a diameter of 3.35 meters. With a liftoff weight of 13.5 metric tons, the craft is able to transport up to 6.9 metric tons of supplies to space station, according to Bai Mingsheng, Tianzhou's chief designer at the China Academy of Space Technology.
With a designed life of more than 1 year, Tianzhou 2, the country's second cargo spaceship, is carrying 6.8 tons of cargo including 2 tons of propellants, more than 160 packages of living and experiment materials and two 100-some-kilogram extravehicular suits for astronauts to perform activities outside the core module.
The living materials will be used by the three astronauts from Shenzhou XII during their 3-month stay inside the Tianhe module.
During its linkup with Tianhe, the cargo ship will also hold scientific experiments and technology demonstration operations, according to Bai.
The designer said that when Tianzhou 2 departs from Tianhe, it will carry wastes from the module and burn up during the atmospheric reentry.
Hao from the manned space agency said the Tianzhou 3 cargo ship will be launched in September to dock with the core module. The next month, another three-astronaut team will fly to the module on Shenzhou XIII to stay there for six months.
Two large space labs will be launched next year to connect with the module. 2022 will also see two manned missions and two robotic cargo flights to continue construction of the space station, which is scheduled to be completed around the end of next year.
Tianzhou 2, a robotic cargo ship, blasts off on a Long March 7 carrier rocket at the Wenchang Space Launch Centerin in Hainan, on May 29, 2021. [Photo by Tu Haichao/for]
China's most adventurous space endeavor, Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, will consist of three main components — a core module attached to two space labs — with a combined weight of nearly 70 metric tons. The entire station is set to work for about 15 years, mission planners have said.
Tianzhou 2's predecessor, Tianzhou 1, was China's biggest spacecraft when it entered service and was launched at the Wenchang launch center in April 2017.
It carried out several docking and in-orbit refueling maneuvers with a Chinese space laboratory in a low-Earth orbit from April to September that year, making China the third nation capable of in-orbit refueling, after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
The world's first operational cargo spacecraft, Progress 7K-TG, was developed and launched by the Soviet Union in 1978. This type of transport vehicle conducted 43 cargo flights before being retired in 1990.
More than 200 cargo vehicles have been sent to deliver supplies to space stations. Currently, four models are in service - China's Tianzhou, Russia's Progress-MS and the US' Cargo Dragon and Cygnus.
By Zhao Lei |