Tianzhou-1 supply ship is being readied for April launch.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

A key element of China’s human spaceflight program is being prepared for launch this April.

The country’s first cargo-carrying spacecraft – Tianzhou-1– has arrived at a launch site in Wenchang City of southern Hainan Province on Monday.

Shoot and ship

Tianzhou-1 can shoot and ship into Earth orbit upwards of six tons. This supply ship is integral to China’s future space station on the drawing boards for the 2020’s.

Once lofted by a Long March-7 booster from the Wenchang spaceport, the cargo ship will dock with the now-orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab and refuel that facility.

China’s cargo ship will dock with the now-orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab and refuel that facility.
Credit: CMSE

Payload ratio

In an interview on CCTV-Plus, Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of Tianzhou-1 at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said: “The carrying capacity of Tianzhou-1 is designed based on the scale of the space station, in the principle of achieving the highest carrying capacity with the lowest structural weight. There is an index for the spacecraft’s carrying capacity, which is called payload ratio,” Bai said. “The payload ratio of Tianzhou-1 can reach 0.48, which is a relatively high figure in the world.”

As noted by CCTV-Plus, payload ratio refers to the ratio of the cargo weight to the weight of the spacecraft. A high payload ratio means high carrying capacity of the spacecraft. The figure is higher than that of the existing spacecraft of Japan and some European countries.

Verifying technology

Tianzhou-1 spacecraft will latch up with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab. That lab late last year hosted two astronauts for China’s longest human spaceflight mission.

The supply craft will refuel the space lab, verifying the technology needed for on-orbit transfer of liquid propellant – one of the key technologies required in assembling and maintaining China’s future space station.

China’s 60-ton medium-size space station for the 2020’s is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA


Two-month process

Bai said that two days after the launch of Tianzhou-1, it will dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab.

“The whole process takes about two months. After the completion of the two-month docking, we will check the status of the equipment and refill the propellant,” Bai added.

For a look at Tianzhou-1 preparations, go to these CCTV-Plus video clips:



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