China launches first cargo spacecraft, successfully docks with orbiting station

A Chinese cargo spacecraft successfully docked with the country's Tiangong-2 space lab on Saturday, marking a significant achievement for the nation's space agency. The Tianzhou-1 cargo ship was launched on April 20th from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Southern China, and is the first such supply delivery mission to the space station. Once the spacecraft arrived, it connected to the station via automated docking process.

Another reason for China's celebration is that it was the first successful mission for the Tianzhou-class spacecraft, which is the heaviest vehicle sent to orbit by the country. The craft is capable of delivering 6 tons of supplies to the space lab, and can carry up to 2 tons of fuel.

The Tiangong-2, or "Heavenly Space Lab 2," is an experimental station that serves as a test for China's goal of launching a much larger manned space station into orbit by the year 2022. In October of last year, two astronauts successfully spent a month aboard the Tiangong-2, marking China's longest manned space mission.

The plan is for the Tianzhou-1 cargo ship to remain attached to the space lab while it completes "robotic demonstrations" for the next two months. After that, it will spend three months conducting additional experiments in orbit, including automated docking and re-docking, and refueling the space station.

SOURCE Reuters