Lift-off for Tianzhou 3, China’s space station resupply mission

21-Sep-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

China launched a cargo spaceship on Monday to deliver supplies to its Tiangong space station and prepare for a second crewed mission planned for next month.

The Tianzhou 3 lifted off aboard a Long March 7 Y4 rocket at 3.10pm from Hainan’s Wenchang spacecraft launch centre in southern China, just three days after the first astronauts to crew the space station returned to Earth.

The Tianzhou 3 entered orbit within 10 minutes of lift-off and began opening its solar panels after 15 minutes, prompting the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) to declare the launch a success.

A source at the launch site said it was the first time the centre had used an automatic launch system.

“Once we are in the launch window, the launch system automatically starts to count down. The system will ignite the rocket at the end of count down. There are no big red buttons to be pressed,” the source said. “It minimises human error.”

The vessel is expected to dock with the space station’s core module about 61/2 hours after launch. The docking process is expected to be shorter this time because the auto-docking system has been improved.

The CMSA said the Tianzhou 3 was carrying about six tonnes of cargo, two-thirds of which were fresh supplies for the next space station crew.

The remainder was equipment and supplies for experiments, including some cedar tree seeds to test how space affects plant growth. The vessel was also carrying components for the space station’s construction.

The Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft is the fifth flight mission in the construction and technology verification phase of the space station.

To prepare for the Tianzhou 3′s arrival, the Tianzhou 2 cargo craft completed a four-hour fly-around to dock with the front port of the space station’s core module on Saturday, the CMSA said.

After this manoeuvre, the core module’s rear and downward-facing ports will be ready, waiting to dock with the Tianzhou 3 cargo craft and the Shenzhou 13 manned spaceship, respectively.

The source at the launch centre said the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft carrying three astronauts would be launched early next month and dock with Tiangong’s core module. The Shenzhou 12 crew tested new docking methods before returning home on Friday.

The Shenzhou 13 team is expected to spend six months at the space station double the length of time the previous crew spent on board.

The source said a woman would be among the three-member crew for the Shenzhou 13 mission. Of the 11 astronauts China has sent into space since 2003, only two have been women Liu Yang and Wang Yaping.

Wang is the frontrunner to join the mission as she was shortlisted as a member of the backup crew for Shenzhou 12.

She was also part of the Shenzhou 10 crew, which tested an experimental lab for the spaceship in June 2013.

When the Tianzhou 3 and Shenzhou 13 dock with the core module, the space station will become a T-shaped structure with a mass of nearly 50 tonnes.

China is expected to send two more modules, named Wentian and Mentian, to build up the space station next year so astronauts can carry out more experiments in fields such as space medicine and biotechnology. Two cargo and two manned missions are also being planned to make the space station fully functional.

Once completed, the Tiangong will be about a quarter of the size of the International Space Station, which was built by a coalition of 16 countries.

The Tiangong is likely to be the only space station operating in near-Earth orbit by the end of the decade, because the 15-year-old ISS is ageing, especially its Russian segment, the Zvezda service module.


Category: China

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