Chinese cargo spaceship docks with space station module

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The Tianzhou-2, or “Celestial Vessel” in Chinese, self-surrendered and docked in Tianhe at 5:01 a.m. Beijing time, Xinhua reported on Sunday.

It took off via a Long March-7 Y3 rocket at 8:55 p.m. Beijing time on Saturday from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan, China’s manned space engineering office said.

With an expected lifespan of over a year, Tianzhou-2 was carrying supplies for future astronauts, including food for the crew of the Shenzhou-12, which will launch next month for a three-month stay on station, as well as two tons of thruster.

Tianzhou-2 is the second in a series of missions needed to complete China’s first self-developed space station in 2022, and follows the launch of Tianhe, the first module, in late April.

The three-module space station will compete with the International Space Station (ISS), which is supported by countries like the United States, Russia and Japan. The United States has banned China from participating in the ISS.

The rocket launch has been postponed this month for technical reasons, state media said.

The first Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft was dispatched to refuel a space lab – Tiangong-2 – three times in 2017, to test the technologies needed to support the construction of the space station.

Next year, China will launch the other two core modules – Wentian and Mengtian – using the Long March 5B, its largest and most powerful space transport vehicle.

The rocket, capable of sending 25 tons of payload into low Earth orbit, was a cause for concern earlier in May as it re-entered the atmosphere after putting Tianhe into orbit.

The media have warned of an uncontrolled re-entry of the rocket’s center stage, rekindling memories of the debris from the flight of the first Long March 5B in May 2020, which damaged buildings when it landed in Côte d’Ivoire .

The remains of the rocket eventually fell into the Indian Ocean, but China has been criticized for its lack of transparency about when the debris re-entered and its trajectory predictions.

From June to 2022, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft will also be launched by the smaller Long March-7 and 2F rockets, which have a maximum low ground payload of 14 tonnes and 8.8 tonnes, respectively.

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