China launches new cargo craft to send space station supplies

By Xinhua
On 18 January 2024 at 07:03

China launched cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-7 on Wednesday night to deliver supplies for its orbiting Tiangong space station, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

The Long March-7 Y8 rocket, carrying Tianzhou-7, blasted off at 10:27 p.m. (Beijing Time) from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in the southern island province of Hainan, the CMSA said.

After about 10 minutes, Tianzhou-7 separated from the rocket and entered its designated orbit. Its solar panels soon unfolded. The agency declared the launch a complete success.

Wednesday’s launch is the first mission of China’s manned space project this year. It is also the 507th mission of the Long March rocket series.

The mission is the sixth flight of the space station cargo delivery system consisting of the Tianzhou cargo craft and the Long March-7 carrier rocket.

The cargo craft and launch vehicle were respectively developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, both of which are affiliated with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Tianzhou-7 will take three hours for the rendezvous and docking with the space station. Previous Tianzhou missions regularly took about 6.5 hours in rendezvous and docking. The exception was the Tianzhou-5 mission, which only took about two hours.

Tianzhou-7 will adopt a new mode of rendezvous and docking yet to be verified in orbit, which is expected to give better play to the guidance, navigation, and control systems of the spacecraft, according to Li Zhiyong, a researcher at the CAST.

Tianzhou-7 is the seventh cargo craft developed by the CAST. "As an improved fully-sealed cargo craft, it has the largest cargo transport capacity, the highest cargo-delivery efficiency, and the most complete in-orbit support capability in the world," said Li.

Tianzhou-7 carries more than 260 items of supplies, including those for the astronaut system, space station system, application tasks, and cargo spacecraft system, as well as other engineering goods, featuring a variety of cargo and large-sized items. The total weight of onboard materials reached about 5.6 tonnes.

Customized cargo packages for experiment payloads and other large-scale goods, each weighing over 100 kilograms, will be applied in the operation of the space station, space science experiments, and astronaut life support.

Tianzhou-7 also sends 2,400 kilograms of living supplies for the astronauts, including Lunar New Year goods and fresh fruits and vegetables. The packaging design has been optimized to ensure longer storage time and freshness.

The application system has loaded Tianzhou-7 with a total of 61 items weighing 473 kilograms, including experiment payloads, experiment units and samples, consumable items, and spare parts, to support continuous space experiments, according to Liu Wei, a researcher at the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The items also contain a set of life support devices to keep cell samples in good condition during this mission and a set of microfluidic chips with the temperature kept at 4 degrees Celsius, said Liu.

Those items will be transferred to the space station’s experiment facility to carry out a total of 33 scientific experiments, such as the effect of space microgravity on human bone cells, the propellant fluid transport and stability under variable gravity, and the growth of nano precious metals in solution under microgravity. The experiments cover fields such as space life science, space material science, microgravity fluid physics, and combustion science, Liu added.

According to the plan, China will launch the Tianzhou-8 cargo spacecraft from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site this year. The site is the country’s fourth launch site and the only one by the seaside.

A Long March-7 Y8 carrier rocket carrying cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-7 blasts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China's Hainan Province, Jan. 17, 2024. China launched cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-7 on Wednesday night to deliver supplies for its orbiting Tiangong space station, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA). (Xinhua/Liu Jinhai)