China Launches First Robotic Resupply Freighter Tianzhou-1
China launched its first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 on Thursday, marking another step further in the country's ambitious space program.
The Tianzhou-1 blasted off into space at 7:41 p.m. local time (11:41 GMT) aboard the latest generation Long March-7 Y2 rocket at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan province.
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The cargo spacecraft, which will dock with the Tiangong 2 space lab, is expected to prove to be an "important technological basis" for the construction of China's space station. China launched the Tiangong-2 in September and its 20-ton core module will be sent in 2018.
The completed 60-ton station is expected to operate for about 10 years and enter into full service in 2022 to support three-person crews for six-month expeditions, Seattle Times reported. The Tianzhou-1 carried six tons of goods, two tons of fuel, and could fly unmanned for three months.
"We will see if the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft meets the demand of transporting and resupplying various goods through this launch," Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft at CASC, said.
Tianzhou-1, which weighs about 29,000 pounds, is the biggest and heaviest spacecraft built and launched by China. It is designed to carry up to 14,300 pounds of payloads and is similar in purpose to cargo freighters that fly to the International Space Station like the Russian Progress supply ship and the commercial Cygnus and Dragon carriers built by Orbital ATK and SpaceX, according to SpaceFlight Now.
"This is a new experiment," Bai said. "If we succeed, then the docking of manned spacecraft and cargo spacecraft will use this technology."