Artist concept of the Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft now in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSE

China’s Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft has begun independent operation Wednesday, backing away from theTiangong-2 space lab.

Ground controllers initiated a separation of Tianzhou-1 from the space lab. The cargo ship stopped at a distance of nearly 400 feet (120 meters) in front of the Tiangong-2.

Credit: CMSA

The cargo spacecraft will continue space science experiments and applications. Tianzhou-1 is to carry out a “fast docking” with Tiangong-2 and a third in-orbit refueling.

That event is reportedly to occur near the end of its six-month mission, with  Tianzhou demonstrating the fast docking procedure with Tiangong 2 – a simulation to mimic future crew and cargo spacecraft dockings with the orbital space station in six hours after launch.

Mastering refueling

As reported by CCTV, the two spacecraft completed their first in-orbit refueling on April 27 and their second on June 15. The Tianzhou-1 supply ship was launched on April 20 from south China’s Hainan Province.

Credit: CSIS

Following Russia and the United States, China is the third country to master refueling techniques in space, a capability the country needs for building and sustaining a permanent space station in the mid-2020s.

“As the International Space Station is set to retire in 2024, the Chinese space station will offer a promising alternative, and China will be the only country with a permanent space station,” explains CCTV.

Credit: CCTV


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