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China: Tianzhou-2 reaches space station module carrying supplies

A cargo spacecraft carrying supplies including food and equipment docked with China’s first space station’s key module Tianhe early on Sunday, state media announced as the station prepares to host three astronauts in June.

The unmanned Tianzhou-2, or “Heavenly Vessel” in Chinese, docked with Tianhe (the key module) at 5.01am Beijing time, official news agency, Xinhua said.

The launch and docking of Tianzhou-2 comes a month after Tianhe, the first part of the space station Tiangong, “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese, was launched.

In late April, China sent to space Tianhe, the management and control hub of Tiangong, the permanent space station, which it plans to complete by 2022 as part of its ambitious space programme.

The Tianhe, which was sent to orbit by a rocket, can provide electricity and accommodate three astronauts for up to six months.

The unmanned Tianzhou-2, which was launched on Saturday evening, carried 4.69 tonnes of pressurised cargo besides1.95 tonnes of propellant and rendezvoused with Tianhe, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO).

It was launched via a Long March-7 Y3 rocket at 8.55pm Beijing time on Saturday from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan, the CMSEO said.

More than 160 large and small packages including supplies for astronauts and space-science equipment for Tianhe were loaded into the cargo spacecraft, the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) told state media.

Tianzhou-2 delivered space food, dubbed “space deliveries” by Chinese engineers, including many traditional Chinese dishes for the astronauts getting ready to leave for the space station in June.

“From staple foods to non-staples, from meat to vegetables, the menu design is of high quality and appetising for astronauts. Famous stir-fried Chinese dishes like fish-flavoured shredded pork and Gong Bao (Kung Bao) chicken are both on the menu,” the Xinhua report said.

Separately, the CMSEO announced that the three astronauts who will take the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft to the space station’s core cabin in June were undergoing quarantine ahead of their departure.

“The three astronauts of the Shenzhou-12 mission, who were selected from China’s first and second batch of astronauts, will stay in space for three months, during which they will conduct tasks including repair and maintenance, appliance switch and scientific operation of payloads,” Yang Liwei, CMSEO director and China’s first astronaut told state broadcaster, CCTV.

Following five launch missions this year, China plans to have six more missions, including the launch of the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, two cargo spacecraft and two crewed spaceships, by 2022, to complete the construction of the space station.

“Since 2003, China has sent six astronauts into space including astronaut Zhai Zhigang who carried out China’s first outer space walk in September 2008,” the report said.

Once completed, the Tiangong is set to be a rival to the International Space Station from which China is excluded.

The ISS comprises Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the US, and 11 member states of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK).

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