Space suc­cess

Cargo craft passes test in fast-dock with lab

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO LEI


China’s cargo space­craft Tianzhou 1 com­pleted an au­to­mated fast-dock­ing oper­a­tion with the Tian­gong II space lab­o­ra­tory late on Tues­day night, ac­cord­ing to the China Manned Space Agency.

Tianzhou 1 be­gan its ap­proach to the space lab at 5:24 pm and spent six and a half hours for the dock­ing, which was com­pleted at 11:58 pm, the agency said in a news re­lease.

It was the third dock­ing se­quence be­tween the two space­craft and the first that was done with the fast-dock­ing tech­nol­ogy. The pre­vi­ous two dock­ings took about two days each.

The mis­sion was in­tended to ver­ify the cargo space­craft’s fast-dock­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, which is im­por­tant to the con­struc­tion and oper­a­tion of China’s space sta­tion, the agency said, adding that Tianzhou 1 will con­duct a third re­fu­el­ing with Tian­gong II be­fore fall­ing back to Earth.

Yang Yuguang, a mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Astro­nau­ti­cal Fed­er­a­tion’s Space Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, said it is im­por­tant for a cargo space­craft to be able to dock quickly with a space sta­tion.

“In the fu­ture, a cargo ship will trans­port some time-sen­si­tive pay­loads to the sta­tion, such as bi­o­log­i­cal sam­ples for sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments,” he said. “In ad­di­tion, the fast­dock­ing tech­nol­ogy en­ables a space­craft to re­duce fuel con­sump­tion dur­ing a dock­ing ma­neu­ver, thus pro­long­ing its life span.”

Tianzhou 1, China’s first cargo space­craft and the coun­try’s big­gest space­craft that has ever been built, was launched at the Wen­chang Space Launch Center in Hainan province on April 20. It is 10.6 me­ters long and has a di­am­e­ter of 3.35 me­ters. Its max­i­mum liftoff weight is 13.5 met­ric tons, en­abling it to carry up to 6.5 tons of sup­plies, ac­cord­ing to the China Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy, the space­craft’s de­vel­oper.

Tian­gong II has been in space since mid-Septem­ber last year and housed two Chi­nese as­tro­nauts from mid-Oc­to­ber to mid-Novem­ber. It is now unmanned.

The two space­craft com­pleted their first and sec­ond dock­ing on April 22 and June 19.

With the mis­sion of Tianzhou 1 to the Tian­gong II space lab­o­ra­tory, China has be­come the third coun­try in the world to have in-or­bit re­fu­el­ing tech­nol­ogy, fol­low­ing Rus­sia and the United States.

In com­ing years, the Tianzhou se­ries will be tasked with trans­port­ing sup­plies of fuel and other ne­ces­si­ties to China’s manned space sta­tion, whose con­struc­tion will start next year. It is ex­pected to en­ter ser­vice by about 2022, the space agency said.

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