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

China has completed its first refueling test in Earth orbit using the Tianzhou-1 cargo vessel.

The Tiangong-2 space lab has for the first time undergone “in-flight refueling.”

The cargo spacecraft was launched from the Wenchang Launch Center on April 20 and successfully docked with the unoccupied space lab two days later.

Two-month flight

As reported on CCTV-Plus, during its two-month flight in space, the cargo spacecraft is slated to refuel the space lab three times.

Credit: CMSA

Each refueling is scheduled to demonstrate a different aspect to China’s approach to space refueling. The refueling procedure takes 29 steps to complete and lasts for several days each time.

According to reports from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, the experiment of in-orbit propellant refueling from Tianzhou-1 spacecraft to Tiangong-2 space lab has been completed successfully.

“Here I pronounce that Tianzhou-1’s space mission has completed with success,” said Zhang Youxia, the commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program.

Larger Chinese space station to be constructed on orbit in the 2020s.
Credit: CMSA

Mastering technology and technique

As noted by CCTV-Plus, if the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft succeeds in all its planned in-orbit refueling, China will become the third country, along with Russia and the United States, to master space refueling technology and technique.

In-orbit refueling has been deemed as a major need-to-have by Chinese space officials to further their future space station programs.

That multi-component orbiting complex is to be completed in the 2020s.


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