China Successfully Launches First Unmanned Cargo Spacecraft
Long March-7 rocket and Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft are seen as they are transferred to a launching spot in Wenchang in China's Hainan province on April 17, 2017. (Photo: China Daily/via Reuters)
Beijing: China on Thursday successfully launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft, taking another great leap towards realising the Communist nation's ambition to have a permanently manned space station by 2022.
Powered by a Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket, Tianzhou-1 roared into the air from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in the southern Hainan Province.
Hours later, officials declared the launch a success, as the spacecraft entered the designated orbit, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
China aims to build a permanent space station by 2022, that is expected to orbit for at least 10 years, and the debut of the cargo ship is important as it acts as a courier to help maintain the space station.
Without a cargo transportation system, the station would run out of power and basic necessities, causing it to return to Earth before the designated time.
The space centre on Tuesday had conducted the final rehearsal for the launch, which covered all systems involved in the launch, such as the rocket, spacecraft, launching site and testing, control and communication systems.
If the Tianzhou-1 mission completes its objective, China will become the third country besides Russia and the United States to master the technique of refuelling in space.
"The Tianzhou-1 mission includes the breakthrough of in-orbit refuelling and other key technologies needed to build a space station, laying a foundation for future space station operations," said Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of the cargo ship which can carry over six tonnes of supplies.
Tianzhou-1 is larger and heavier than Tiangong-2, which is 10.4 metres in length and has a maximum diameter of 3.35 metres, weighing 8.6 tonnes.
The second docking will be conducted from a different direction, which aims to test the ability of the cargo ship to dock with the space station from different directions. In the last docking, Tianzhou-1 will use fast-docking technology.
Previously, it took China about two days to dock, while fast docking will take about six hours, according to Bai. Refuelling is conducted during docking, a process that is much more complicated than refuelling vehicles on land. The refuelling procedure will take 29 steps and last for several days each time.
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