Tianzhou-1 launches on the maiden test flight of China’s new cargo vessel

Yesterday didn’t just see the launch of Soyuz MS-04; the Chinese also launched Tianzhou-1, the experimental first model of their new autonomous cargo vehicle to support their crewed space station program.  Tianzhou-1 will dock several times with the now-uncrewed Tiangong-2 space station to validate the performance of the docking system and its ability to offload propellants into the station (a feature that has only ever been available in two other cargo vessels, Progress and Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle).  This launch occurred using a Long March 7 rocket flying out of the new Wengchang Space Center on Hainan Island.  Both the Long March 7 and Wengchang were built largely with the crewed program in mind; Hainan is much further south than any other Chinese launch centers, improving the available upmass.  Long March 7 will be used to fly both Tianzhou and Shenzhou (the crewed vehicle).

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