A Chinese cargo spacecraft carrying equipment and supplies yesterday successfully docked with the core module of what is to become the country’s new space station, state media said.
A Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft — loaded with essentials such as food, equipment and fuel — blasted off late on Saturday from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan, Xinhua news agency reported.
The docking with the space station’s Tianhe core module was completed at 5:01am Beijing time, the agency said, citing the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
China would need to carry out about 10 missions in total to complete assembly of the space station — named Tiangong, meaning “Heavenly Palace” — in orbit. The station is expected to become fully operational next year. Once completed, it is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for up to 15 years.
With the possible retirement of the International Space Station after 2028, Tiangong could become the only human outpost in Earth’s orbit.
Now that the cargo craft has docked, China plans to begin preparations to send three astronauts up to unpack the goods, which include meals such as shredded pork with garlic sauce and Kung Pao chicken, the agency said.
“We will transport support materials, necessary spare parts and equipment first, and then our crew,” Xinhua quoted CMSA Director Hao Chun (郝淳) as saying.
Beijing has pumped billions into its space program in a bid to make up ground on pioneers Russia and the US, with ambitious projects in Earth’s orbit and the landing of uncrewed craft on the moon and Mars.
However, it was heavily reprimanded by the US and experts for a potentially dangerous breach of space etiquette when it allowed a massive rocket segment to free-fall to Earth earlier this month after launching the Tianhe core module.
The European Space Agency has already sent astronauts to China to train for work inside Tiangong when it is ready.
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