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


The pace in China is quickening as the country’s first cargo spacecraft — Tianzhou-1 – moves toward its April launch.

In recent video reports via CCTV-Plus, details of the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft show it to be 35 feet (10.6 meters) tall with its largest diameter at 11 feet (3.35 meters) and a weight of 13 tons. The upper part with the bigger diameter is designated as a warehouse while the lower part with smaller diameter will propel the spacecraft.

Payload ratio

As China’s largest and heaviest spacecraft, the Tianzhou-1 can send 6.5 tons of cargo into the space.

“The carrying capacity of Tianzhou-1 is designed according to the scale of the space station, aiming to achieve the highest carrying capacity with the lowest structural weight,” explains Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of Tianzhou-1 at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

There is an index for the spacecraft’s carrying capacity, or payload ratio as it is called. The payload ratio of Tianzhou-1 reaches 0.48, which ranks fairly high in the world, adds Bai.

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

Space lab link-up

The role of Tianzhou-1 is to provide propellant for the now-orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab. This fuel can help the lab maintain its proper orbiting height.

The Tianzhou-1 supply craft, if successfully launched, is expected to dock with the Earth circling space lab three times. During the docking, a new experiment of independent quick docking will be conducted, which requires that the two spacecraft dock with each other within six hours.

“This is a new experiment. If we can succeed, then the docking of manned spacecraft and cargo spacecraft will all use this technology. If the docking time could be cut short, our astronauts will be more comfortable, so there is a big point in doing so,” said Bai.

Vital mission

For Chinese space program officials, the Tianzhou-1 mission wraps up a second phase of China’s piloted space agenda and is a vital milestone for the country to establish a larger space station around 2022.

Tianzhou-1 supply ship.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

The Tianzhou-1 is scheduled to liftoff from the Wenchang space complex atop a Long March-7 Yao-2. That booster has been transported to the site in Wenchang City of south China’s Hainan Province on Saturday for pre-launch testing, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

A Long March-7 completed its maiden flight mission on June 25, 2016 from the launch site in Wenchang. The Long March-7 Yao-2 type launcher has been optimized for lofting the Tianzhou-1.

Long March-7 maiden flight in June 2016.
Credit: New China

Launch preparations

At the launch area, the booster will undergo components testing, vertical assembly, and then placement of Tianzhou-1 on the rocket. Once these steps are completed, the rocket is to undergo four general checks and then transported to the pad for fueling.

“The rocket will be launched in April when the time is right,” explains Che Zhuming, a senior engineer at the launch center.

For video looks at preparations to launch Tianzhou-1, go to these CCTV-Plus posted items:





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