Credit: CGTN


China’s Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft has performed an automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab today, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Tianzhou-1 was lofted atop a Long March-7 Y2 booster on Thursday evening from Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province.

According to the country’s space planners, the cargo ship and Tiangong-2 space lab will carry out two additional dockings.

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

Docking plan

According to CCTV-plus, the second docking will be conducted from a different direction, which aims to test the ability of the cargo ship to dock with a future space station from different directions. A third and final docking will use fast-docking technology. It normally takes about two days to dock, while fast docking will take only six hours.

A 29-step refueling script will takes place over several days.

Goods and propellant

The Tiangong-2 space lab has been in Earth orbit since September 15, 2016.

State-run media reports that the supply ship is loaded with roughly six tons of goods and propellants. The combination of Tianzhou-1/Tiangong-2 is to have a two-month flight and conduct in-orbit liquid propellant refueling as well as carry out various experiments.

Credit: CMSA


Tianzhou-1 is China’s largest and heaviest spacecraft with a total length of 35-feet (10.6 meters), 11-feet (3.35 meters) in maximum diameter and weighs 13 tons.

“Now Tianzhou-1 and Tiangong-2 have formed a rigid, combined unit,” said Huang Zhen, an engineer from the flight control decision support group at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

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

Smooth docking

“Tiangong-2 has taken over Tianzhou-1’s functions. They used to be two separate spacecraft, so to make them a combined body we need to properly integrate relevant resources and information. Therefore, we are planning to shut down other functions, like cutting off the power supply to the docking equipment,” Huang said during a CCTV-Plus interview. “The docking process went very smoothly today. Now the combined unit is quite stable. As planned, we will make preparations for refueling tomorrow and replenish both fuel and oxidizing agent to the Tiangong-2 space lab,” he said.

Credit: CSIS

Space station steps

The now unoccupied Tiangong 2 space laboratory — or “Heavenly Palace 2” — is the facility where two astronauts spent a month last October in China’s longest ever piloted space trek – a Shenzhou-11 mission that totaled 33 days.

The Tianzhou-1/Tiangong-2 mission is viewed by China’s space planners as a crucial step toward the country’s goal of establishing a permanent space station around 2022.

For CCTV-Plus video about the docking, go to:

Leave a Reply