Rollout of Long March-7 Y4 and the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft on Saturday was repositioned at the country’s space station construction site.

The cargo craft docked with the front port of China’s core module Tianhe, in order to make room for upcoming Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft.

According to China Central Television (CCTV) the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft separated from the rear docking port of Tianhe at 10:25 (Beijing time) Saturday, then completed a computer-orchestrated rendezvous and docking with the front port of Tianhe.

Credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Make room

Yang Sheng, general chief designer of cargo spacecraft system of the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, noted there are two main reasons for the change of position at this time: to make room for Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft and create conditions for the radial docking of the soon-to-launched Shenzhou-13 piloted spacecraft, targeted for launch in October.

Yang said that the core module has docking ports at both front and rear, and during orbit, Tianzhou-2 only needs to turn itself 180 degrees to complete a “U-turn” in space.

China’s space station is projected to be completed in late 2022.
Credit: CAST

Autopilot repositioning

After separation, Tianzhou-2 moved backwards, during which it always keeps in communication with the core module. Then it circled under the core module.

During the rendezvous, the Tianzhou-2 cargo spaceship made a U-turn, and the core module maintained a steady position. After moving to the front of the core module, it docked with the front port of the core module.

Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“The entire process is all automatic from separation to docking,” Yang told CCTV. Reportedly, the entire start to end process lasted approximately four hours.

The combination of the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft and a Long March-7 Y4 carrier rocket has been transferred to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, stated the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

The CMSA said the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft will be launched in the near future “at an appropriate time” – with Monday the likely liftoff day.

One Response to “China’s “U-turn” in Space Station Construction”

  • Ben says:

    wouldn’t it have been easier to undock, yaw the core 180 degrees and then redock ? I think the soviets used to do it that way.

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