Tag Archives: Tianzhou-1

Launch/landing updates

It’s been a while since I’ve posted; work’s been crazy busy!  So I’ll quick catch you up with some of what’s gone up and down since I last posted:

On September 17, the latest Dragon capsule (CRS-12) returned from the ISS with a two tons of research material and hardware on board, including a population of laboratory mice sent into space to study effect on eyesight and movement.

On September 21, a Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome placed the latest element of the GLONASS M navigation constellation into orbit.

On September 23, an Atlas V out of Vandenburg Air Force Base carried the classified NROL-42 into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Obviously, they won’t tell us much about the payload, but the mission patch and the launch site both suggest a polar orbiting spacecraft.  The size of the fairing and quantity of boosters both suggest a very big spacecraft, which is fairly typical for spy satellites.  It is believed to be a signals intelligence spacecraft, which means its job will likely be to intercept communications.  Maybe.  😉

Lastly, the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft returned to Earth in pieces last Friday.  It was supposed to; it was an experimental robotic resupply and refueling spacecraft similar in function to Progress, which also undergoes a destructive reentry at the end of its mission.  Tianzhou 1 completed a successful mission docking with the uninhabited Tiangong 2 space station, transferring propellant, and then later undocking and safely disposing of itself.  Tiangong 2 is not expected to host any more human occupants, but remains in orbit as a procedures testbed for ground controllers.  It is not clear when the next space station will fly; China intends to greatly increase the size and functionality of their stations, but they have had a major setback with the failure of the last Long March 5 rocket.  This is the heaviest rocket they’ve built to date, and is intended to place the major elements of their new modular space station in orbit, but with a 50/50 operational record after two flights, some more work is needed before it can carry such valuable cargo.


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Tianzhou-1 completes inflight refueling demonstration

Tianzhou-1 has docked with the unoccupied Tiangong-2 station and completed an on-orbit refueling demonstration.  The entire operation took five days.  Tianzhou-1, which is loaded with inert bags to act as mass models of station supplies, will remain at the station for a few months, conducting other tests, before undocking for a free-flight phase of the mission before it is commanded to a destructive reentry.

Tianzhou-1 is the heaviest payload ever launched by China, bigger even than the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space stations, which speaks to the high aspirations they have for their subsequent stations.  They are planning something substantial, and capable of continuous occupation.  Tianzhou itself is designed to supply the needs of three crewmembers (in food, water, supplies, and breathable air) for a full month.

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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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