Docking of Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft with core module.
Credit: CNSA/China Media Group/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Tianzhou-3 cargo craft re-entered the atmosphere “in a controlled manner” Wednesday, reports the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the “uncontrolled” re-entry of the hefty Long March-5 rocket body, now predicted to fall to Earth July 31 ± 22 hours, according to re-entry experts at The Aerospace Corporation. This Long March-5 leftover hurled the Wentian, the first lab module of China’s space station.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

As for the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft, it was launched on September 20, 2021, delivering roughly 6 tons of supplies to the in-construction station site. While in orbit, the cargo craft conducted two rendezvous and docking operations with the combination of the Tianhe core module, and carried out a test flight circling the space station.

Space technology tests

After its separation from the Tianhe combination on July 17, Tianzhou-3 carried out space technology tests, accumulating important experience for the in-orbit construction as well as the operation and management of the space station, according to a China Central Television (CCTV) report.

Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Tianzhou-3 cargo craft flew independently during the rendezvous and docking between the Wentian lab module and the Tianhe core module. If any failure occurred during the docking process, Tianzhou-3 would have re-docked with the space station to provide living space for the astronauts, CCTV noted.

The CMSA explained that, as for the demise of the cargo vehicle, most of the spacecraft’s components burned up during re-entry, and a small amount of its debris fell into the scheduled safe waters.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

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