China launches cargo craft Tianzhou-5 for space station supplies

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The Long March-7 Y6 rocket, carrying cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-5, blasts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China's Hainan Province, Nov. 12, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

China launched cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-5 on Saturday to deliver supplies for the country's space station, the construction of which is expected to be completed this year.

The Long March-7 Y6 rocket, carrying Tianzhou-5, blasted off at 10:03 a.m. (Beijing Time) from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in the southern island province of Hainan, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

After around 10 minutes, Tianzhou-5 separated from the rocket and entered its designated orbit. Its solar panels soon unfolded and began working. The CMSA declared the launch a complete success.

At 12:10 p.m., Tianzhou-5 conducted a fast automated rendezvous and docking at the rear docking port of the space station's core module Tianhe.

This is the first time that China's cargo craft has completed a fast automated rendezvous and docking in about two hours, setting a world record, according to Pan Weizhen, a designer of the cargo craft system from the China Academy of Space Technology.

It is of great significance for improving the level of China's space rendezvous and docking, and for enhancing the emergency supply capacity for the space station.

It is the first time that a cargo craft has docked with China's space station in its T-shape configuration, which weighs about 80 tonnes, verifying Tianzhou-5's adaptability to dock a large-tonnage target, Pan said.

This is also the first time that Chinese astronauts in space have witnessed the arrival of a cargo craft at the country's space station.

The cargo craft carries around 5 tonnes of goods and materials and 1.4 tonnes of propellant for the space station complex, including essential supplies for the three astronauts on the upcoming Shenzhou-15 mission for their six-month orbital stay, Pan said.

It also carries test projects including a science popularization satellite, a space hydrogen and oxygen fuel-cell system, and broad-energy-spectrum high-energy particle detection equipment.

China launched the space lab module Mengtian on Oct. 31, taking the construction of the country's space station into the final stage.

With the core module Tianhe and lab modules Wentian and Mengtian, the space station has formed a three-module T-shape structure. Such a structure is the planned layout at the space station's completion.

The country plans to launch the Shenzhou-15 crewed spaceship later this year. The Shenzhou-14 and Shenzhou-15 crew members will conduct the first in-orbit crew rotation in China's space history.

Saturday's launch is the 26th mission of China's manned space programs and the 449th mission of the Long March rocket series.

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