China launches cargo mission to Tiangong space station

China launches cargo mission to Tiangong space station

China just sent some fresh supplies to its Tiangong space station.

A Long March 7 rocket topped with the robotic Tianzhou 6 freighter lifted off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island Wednesday (May 10) at 9:22 a.m. EDT (1322 GMT; 9:22 p.m. local time on Hainan). 

Tianzhou 6 is headed for the T-shaped Tiangong, which China finished assembling in low Earth orbit late last year. The launch “successfully sent the spacecraft into the predetermined orbit,” according to an update (opens in new tab) from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (Google provided the translation to English.)

Related: The latest news about China’s space program

Tianzhou 6 is packed with clothes, drinking water and food for Tiangong’s current crew, the three astronauts of the Shenzhou 15 mission, as well as the future Shenzhou 16 astronauts, according to the state-run Chinese broadcaster CCTV (opens in new tab)

Shenzhou 15 launched last November and is scheduled to return to Earth this month. The three Shenzhou 16 astronauts will take their predecessors’ place on Tiangong.

In addition, Tianzhou 6 is carrying 1.7 tons of propellant, 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of which will be transferred to Tiangong. The fuel infusion will allow the outpost to continue maintaining its orbit, CCTV reported. 

Tianzhou 6 marks the first mission for a new and improved version of China’s robotic freighter. For example, Tianzhou 6’s pressurized cargo segments can accommodate about 1,100 more pounds (500 kilograms) of payload than previous iterations of the spacecraft.

This added capacity allows China to now launch resupply missions to Tiangong every eight months on average, as opposed to every six months with previous Tianzhou vessels.

Tianzhou 6 is the first of three missions scheduled to launch to Tiangong in 2023. The other two are Shenzhou 16 and Shenzhou 17, which are expected to lift off this month and toward the end of the year, respectively.

This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. EDT with official confirmation of the successful launch.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab). 

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