Tianzhou-1 to dock with Tiangong II space lab and conduct in-orbit refuelling
China has launched its first domestically engineered cargo spacecraft, a crucial step in Beijing’s goal to launch and resupply a manned space station by 2022.
The mission of the Tianzhou-1, China’s biggest and heaviest spaceship to date, is to dock with the Tiangong II space lab, launched in September 2016, and conduct in-orbit refuelling — a big technical challenge.
Sustaining a manned space station would be the crowning achievement of China’s ambitious space programme, whose budget, though dwarfed by that of the US, is set to triple by 2026.
“The launch of Tianzhou-1 is very significant because once our country’s space station is constructed and launched, it cannot leave its orbit so it will be crucial to send propellant and supplies as well as take back any debris and outdated equipment, ” said Jiao Weixin, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University.
China’s manned space station, if launched as planned in 2022, would become the only one in orbit when Nasa’s International Space Station is retired from service in 2028.
“After our space station is launched, then if the US or Russia needs to do space research, then we can say, ‘sorry, you will have to contact China and co-operate with us’ , ” said Prof Jiao.

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