China successfully launches cargo refueling spacecraft

China on Saturday successfully launched an automated cargo refueling spacecraft to travel with a module into orbit, in the second in a series of missions needed to complete its first permanent space station.

The Tianzhou-2, or “celestial vessel” in Chinese, took off via a March-7 long Y3 rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan, China’s manned space engineering office said.

Tianzhou-2 is the second of 11 missions needed to complete China’s first self-developed space station around 2022, and follows the launch of the Tianhe Key Module in late April.

The three-module space station will compete with the only other station in service, the International Space Station (ISS), which is supported by countries like the United States, Russia and Japan. China was not allowed to participate in the ISS by the United States.

Tianzhou-2 will dock autonomously with Tianhe, which will provide supplies for future astronauts as well as thruster to maintain its orbital altitude.

The rocket launch was announced this month for technical reasons, state media said.

The first Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft was sent three times in 2017 to supply a space lab – Tiangong-2, to test the technologies needed to support the construction of the space station.

Tiangong-2 and an earlier Tiangong-1 space lab have been de-orbited in recent years.

Next year, China will launch the other two core modules – Wentian and Mengtian – using the Long March 5B, its largest and most powerful space transport vehicle. Read more

The rocket, capable of sending 25 tons of payload into low Earth orbit, was a cause for concern earlier in May as it re-entered the atmosphere after putting Tianhe into orbit. Read more

The media have warned of an “uncontrolled” reentry of the rocket’s central stage, reviving memories of the debris from the flight of the first Long March 5B in May 2020, which damaged buildings during its landing in Côte d ‘ Ivory.

The rocket’s remains eventually fell harmlessly into the Indian Ocean, but China has come under fire for not being transparent about when the debris re-entered and its path predictions. Read more

From June to 2022, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft will also be launched, by the smaller Long March-7 and 2F rockets, which have a maximum low ground payload of 14 tonnes and 8.8 tonnes, respectively.

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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