Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Details are emerging regarding the docking of China’s newly-launched cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-2 to the Tianhe space station module.

Tianzhou-2 is fully automatic and the spacecraft has a specialized smart cargo managing system to replenish the station, said experts, according to the China Central Television (CCTV).

The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft was lofted Saturday (Beijing time) atop a Long March-7 Y3 rocket, blasting off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan Province.

The supply ship brought supplies, equipment and propellant to the in-orbit Tianhe space station core module.

“From the moment of launch to the rendezvous and docking, the ground personnel do not participate in the whole process and do not perform calculation simulations. The entire rendezvous and docking process is carried out directly through the spacecraft’s own computer system,” said Liu Zhihui, deputy chief commander of Tianzhou-2 project.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Later, we are going to do a tele-operation rendezvous and docking. Astronauts will be able to remotely control our cargo spacecraft to dock with the space station in the core model of the space station. The purpose of this design is that when we conduct flights in the future, our regular docking is automatic docking, but if there is a problem with the automatic system, we will switch to manual docking mode,” said Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of Tianzhou-2 told CCTV.

Supply ship specifics

The length of Tianzhou-2 is 10.6 meters, and its width can reach 14.9 meters after the solar panels are fully deployed. The entire cargo spacecraft is divided into two parts, the rear part is the propulsion cabin, which has a diameter of 2.8 meters, and the front part is its cargo cabin, which can reach 3.35 meters in diameter.

Tianzhou-2 has a total weight of 13.5 tons, and can carry 6.9 tons of payloads, making it currently the world’s most powerful cargo spacecraft. A total of 36 engines are installed on the cargo spacecraft, including 4 orbit-controlled engines. These 4 high-power engines are the guarantee for the process of raising and changing the orbit of the cargo spacecraft.

China’s space station expected to be completed around 2022.
CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Intelligent cargo management

The 6.9-ton cargo list of the Tianzhou-2 includes not only the items for astronauts’ daily needs, but also some hardware equipment for experiments. In the past, due to the huge variety and quantity of cargo, astronauts had to deal with situations where they could not quickly find what they needed. To solve this problem, designer of Tianzhou-2 specially developed an intelligent cargo management system for their convenience.

China first used automatic space docking technology on the Shenzhou-8 unpiloted spacecraft in November 2011. In June 2012, the country used a remote-control system to dock a crewed Shenzhou-9 with Tiangong-1, China’s experimental space lab.

Go to these newly issued videos regarding the Tianzhou-2 mission at:


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