Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
Research | By Jo Caldwell

China Just Launched Its First Unmanned Cargo Spacecraft

China Just Launched Its First Unmanned Cargo Spacecraft

China will launch its first cargo spacecraft tomorrow to dock with the orbiting experimental space station, authorities said today.

The craft is similar in function to the Russian Progress Spacecraft and US Cygnus and Japan's HTV spacecraft which are used to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), and would allow China to maintain a long-term presence in low Earth orbit.

The four vacuum-optimized engines produced a combined 161,880 pounds-force (720 kilonewtons) of thrust in order to deliver the almost 29,000-pound (13,000-kilogram) Tianzhou-1 to low-Earth orbit.

In this Monday, April 17, 2017 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tianzhou 1 is transferred to the launching site in Wenchang, south China's Hainan Province.

The Tianzhou 1 spacecraft measures around 34.8 feet (10.6 meters) long and 11 feet (3.4 meters) in diameter.

Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age.

Currently, only USA and Russian Federation have the technology of liquid propellant transferring in orbit.

The spacecraft can carry 6 tons of goods, 2 tons of fuel and can fly unmanned for three months, state media said. When successful, such docking method can be applied to both manned spacecraft and cargo spaceship.

The Long March 7 is capable of putting a payload of almost 30,000 pounds - about 13.5 metric tons - into low Earth orbit, and more than 12,000 pounds - 5.5 metric tons - into a sun-synchronous polar orbit up to 435 miles (700 kilometers) in altitude.

Built between 2009 and 2014, the Wenchang launch center sits at 19 degrees north latitude, closer to the equator than any other Chinese rocket base, giving China better access to place satellites in geostationary orbit.

China launched the Tiangong 2 precursor facility in September and the station's 20-ton core module will be launched next year. It made its maiden flight in June 2016. A mission to land another rover on Mars and bring back samples is set to launch in 2020, while China also plans to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the far side of the moon.

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