China launches unmanned spacecraft with supplies for under-construction space station
China on Monday launched a second unmanned cargo spacecraft, which will join the core module of the country’s under-construction space station carrying supplies for future missions, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said.
The robotic Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft was launched at 3pm (China time) on a Long March 7 carrier rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan province. “China launched cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-3 on Monday to deliver supplies for its under-construction space station,” the official news agency Xinhua said, quoting CMSA.
The Tianzhou-3 is carrying supplies including water and propellant to sustain missions in the future and will dock with China’s Tianhe space station, which is expected to become operational in 2022. The Tianzhou-3 mission is the fourth of 11 missions designed to build China’s space station, Tiangong or “Heavenly Palace”.
The combination of the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft and a Long March-7 Y4 carrier rocket was transferred to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site last week. “On September 18, Tianzhou-2, the predecessor of Tianzhou-3, separated with the space station’s core module, conducted a fly-around and docked with the space station core module’s front-facing port,” China’s official English broadcaster, CGTN said in a report on Monday.
Monday’s launch comes days after China concluded its Shenzhou-12 manned mission on September 17 with three Chinese astronauts returning to Earth after completing their three-month mission including two spacewalks and setting the Chinese record for the longest crewed spaceflight mission. On June 17, China had launched the Shenzhou-12 mission carrying three astronauts to stay at an under-construction space station.
The return capsule of the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, carrying astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, touched down at the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Its successor, the Shenzhou-13 spaceship will carry another three astronauts to the space station, who will stay six months in orbit, the CMSA had said. Tianzhou-3 is carrying the supplies for the crew of Shenzhou-13, which is scheduled to be launched in October.
In late April, China had sent to space Tianhe, the management and control hub of Tiangong, the permanent space station, which it plans to complete by 2022 as part of its ambitious space programme.
Once built, China’s space station, Tiangong or “Heavenly Palace, will be the only alternative to the two-decade-old, US-led International Space Station (ISS), which may be retired in 2024, Reuters news agency had reported earlier.
The ISS - from which China is excluded - comprises Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the US, and 11 member states of the European Space Agency.