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April 21, 2017
Image above: The Tianzhou 1 cargo craft launched aboard a Long March 7 rocket Thursday. Image Credit: Xinhua.
A Long March 7 rocket lifted off Thursday with Tianzhou 1, an unpiloted refueling freighter heading for China’s Tiangong 2 mini-space station to conduct several months of robotic demonstrations, practicing for the assembly and maintenance of a future permanently-staffed orbital research complex.
The 174-foot-tall (53-meter) kerosene-fueled launcher blasted off from the Wenchang space center, a tropical facility on Hainan Island at China’s southern frontier, at 1141:35 GMT (7:41:35 a.m. EDT; 7:41:35 p.m. Beijing time), shortly after sunset at launch site.
Chinese Long March 7 with Tianzhou-1 launch
Lighting up the evening sky with an brilliant orange glow for a crowd of tourists, foreign dignitaries and media representatives, the Long March 7 soared through scattered clouds atop 1.6 million pounds of thrust and headed southeast to line up with the orbital path of China’s Tiangong 2 space lab, where the cargo craft will dock some time Saturday.
The Long March 7 rocket had a one-minute launch opportunity Thursday timed for roughly the moment the orbital track of Tiangong 2 passed over the Wenchang launch base, which China began constructing in 2009 and inaugurated with two successful rocket flights last year.
According to the official CCTV+ television network, ground crews loaded about 45,000 gallons, or 170 cubic meters, of rocket-grade kerosene fuel into the Long March 7 rocket in the hours before Thursday’s launch. Cryogenic liquid oxygen was pumped aboard the launcher after the kerosene.
Image above: Artist’s concept of the Tianzhou 1 and Tiangong 2 spacecraft docking in orbit. Image Credit: CCTV+.
The Tianzhou 1 spacecraft fastened atop the Long March 7 rocket for Thursday’s launch carried several tons of fuel and new automatic docking equipment to test how China plans to resupply its planned space station, which could begin assembly in orbit as soon as next year with the launch of a massive core section.
At least two more modules will be added to create a 60-metric ton space station by 2022 capable of hosting three astronauts for stays of up to six months.
For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit: http://english.spacechina.com/n16421/index.html
Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: CASC/Spaceflight Now/Stephen Clark.