Wang Xiaojun, commander-in-chief of Long March-7.
Credit: CCTV-Plus


Chinese space engineers are busily readying the country’s Tianzhou-1 – a resupply spacecraft.

A Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket will boost the cargo vehicle into space next month, blasting off from China’s Wenchang Launch Center, Hainan Province.

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

The launch of Tianzhou-1 faces challenges as the rocket’s launch window has to be accurate to a second, explains Wang Xiaojun, commander-in-chief of Long March-7.

“Rockets are composed of a complex system. And the operational procedure before the launch is also very complex. If there is a problem in any step in the process, it will be difficult for us to guarantee the zero window launch,” Wang told CCTV in a video interview.

Zero launch window

The cargo spacecraft will dock with the already orbiting, but unoccupied, Tiangong-2 space lab, and that requires a precise launch window accurate to a second, hence the name “zero launch window.”

Tianzhou-1 supply ship.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

There’s another launch issue. That is, the rainy weather in south China’s Hainan Province that can impact the launch time.

Wang underscores the fact that rocket designers have made the rocket waterproof – reportedly China’s first carrier rocket capable of being launched in rain.

Space lab link-ups

If successfully launched, the Tianzhou-1 is expected to dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab three times to evaluate rendezvous, docking, and refueling techniques.

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

Meanwhile, China’s space monitoring and control vessel team has also entered a key phase of its preparation, at the ready for the upcoming Tianzhou-1 liftoff.

Future plans

Tiangong-2 (Heavenly Palace-2) was lobbed into space in mid-September 2016. A two-person Shenzhou 11 successfully docked with Tiangong-2 in October 2016. Veteran space flyer, Jing Haipeng commanded the mission, with first-time space flyer, Chen Dong, forming the inaugural crew for the space laboratory.

Credit: CSIS

The crew landed successfully after their 33-day space mission on November 18, 2016.

China’s Tianzhou-1 cargo vessel is a key element of the country’s future plans to construct a multi-module space station in the 2020s.

For a recent CCTV-Plus video on Tianzhou-1 launch preparations, go to:

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