Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China Completes Design of First Cargo Spacecraft

Long March 3B rocket

(Photo : Reuters) The Long March 3B rocket carries the Chang'e-3 lunar probe .

China has already finished designing its first cargo spacecraft to transport supplies to its future manned space station.

The unmanned Tianzhou ("Heavenly Vessel" in Chinese ) cargo spacecraft has been approved by a panel of experts from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation and the China Academy of Space Technology.

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Scientists and space engineers will soon start building an elaborate production model of Tianzhou.

The spacecraft's development began in July 2012. It's based on the design of China's space laboratory, Tiangong-1, and the Shenzhou manned spacecraft.

The major roles of this spacecraft will be to transport supplies and refuel the space station.

A statement on the China Manned Space Engineering Project website said the spacecraft will also retrieve waste from the station.

Tianzhou will weigh around 13 metric tons and will have a cargo capacity of 6 tons, according to Zha Xuelei, deputy chief designer of the Tianzhou system.

Tianzhou's maiden launch will take place around 2016. It is expected to rendezvous with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory that will be orbited before the end of 2015, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program.

Tianzhou will be launched from the newly built Wenchang Launch Center in Hainan province aboard a Long March 7 rocket currently under development. There will be a test launch for Long March 7 and Tianzhou later this year.

The Chinese government expects this cargo transportation system is key to China's completion of its own space station, which will be operational around 2020.

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