China cargo ship docks with space station module


A long March 7 rocket carrying China’s Tianzhou-2 cargo craft rises from the Wenchang space launch center in Hainan province in southern China. Copyright AFP Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS

On Sunday, a cargo spacecraft carrying material and supplies successfully docked the central module of the country’s future space station, state media reported.

A long March 7 rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship, laden with basic items such as food, equipment and fuel, exploded on Saturday afternoon from the Wenchang launch site on the tropical island of Hainan. , in the south, Xinhua news agency reported.

The docking with the space station’s Tianhe core module was completed at 5:01 a.m. Beijing time (Saturday 2101 GMT), the agency said, citing the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

China will have to carry out about ten missions in total to complete the assembly of the space station (called Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”) in orbit.

The station is expected to become operational in 2022. Once completed, it is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for up to 15 years.

With the possible withdrawal from the International Space Station after 2028, Tiangong could become the only advanced human site in Earth orbit.

Now that the cargo ship has docked, China plans to begin preparations to send three astronauts to unpack the goods, which include meals such as shredded pork with garlic sauce and Kung Pao chicken, the agency said.

“We will first transport supporting materials, spare parts and necessary equipment and then our crew,” said Hao Chun, director of CMSA, Xinhua.

– Space aspirations –

Beijing has incorporated billions into its space program to try to reclaim pioneering terrain in Russia and the United States, with ambitious projects in Earth orbit and the landing of unmanned spacecraft on the Moon and Mars.

But the United States and many experts blamed them for a potentially dangerous space etiquette violation for dropping a massive rocket segment on Earth earlier this month after launching the Tianhe core module.

Although Chinese authorities have said they are open to foreign collaboration at their space station, the scope of this cooperation is still unclear.

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But the European Space Agency has already sent astronauts to China to train to work inside Tiangong when it is ready.

Earlier this month, China landed its Zhurong rover on Mars, becoming the third nation to successfully land a vessel on the red planet.

The rover has begun to wander to study Martian geology: it spends about three months taking pictures and collecting data from a vast northern lava plain.

The United States and Russia are the only countries to have reached Mars and only the former has operated a rover on the surface.

The launch of the Tianzhou-2 was scheduled to take place a few days after the Mars rover landed, but was postponed for technical reasons.

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