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China Readies Launch of Its First Space Cargo Ship

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EIRNS—Today China transferred its first cargo ship, the Tianhou-1, to the launch pad at its new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on HainanIsland, Xinhua reports. A photograph shows the spacecraft, atop its Long March 7 rocket, on its way from the assembly building to the pad. The launch will take place between April 20 and 24, the news service reports.

The cargo ship will dock three times with the unoccupied Tiangong-2 module, which has been in orbit since last year. Its main mission objective is to practice refueling the Tiangong module with liquid propellant. This capability is needed for China’s future, full-sized space station. In low Earth orbit, where the Chinese space station will reside, there is enough atmosphere to produce drag on an orbiting spacecraft. So periodic reboosting is needed, and the cargo craft will deliver the fuel for the reboost.

Tiangzhou-1, which will also house scientific experiments, can carry 6.5 tons of cargo, as compared with Russia’s workhorse Progress supply ship, which can deliver 2.5 tons to the ISS. Japan’s unmanned ship, the HTV, is comparable in size to the Tianzhou, and can deliver 6 tons of cargo to the ISS. [MGF]