China Launches Supply Ship to Tiangong-2 Space Station

China launched its Tianzhou-1 cargo ship aboard a Long March 7 booster on Thursday.

The supply ship is headed for an automated docking with the Tiangong-2 space station, which does not have a crew on board. Two Chinese astronauts occupied the station for 30 days last fall.

Tianzhou-1 will rendezvous and dock with the space station three times. The supply ship, which is larger than the space station, will also test out refueling procedures crucial for a permanent, multi-module space station China plans to begin launching in 2018.

  • JamesG

    baby steps baby steps…

  • I’m being purposely outlandish, but this contain a kernel of truth:
    What will the Chinese charge to resupply a commercial space station? If all you ask for is food, water, propellant and international hardware, you could avoid ITAR entirely. I wonder if China could resupply space stations like they supply Walmart?

  • JamesG

    Not outlandish at all if you were a non_US/EUsian, with lots of cash to diversify and you wanted to build and operate a LEO station and you didn’t want to get caught up in the morrass of red tape and foot dragging that characterize the usual suspects. The Chinese or Indians are the go-tos for launching anyone else’s cargos if they aren’t bound by the Western control structures (finance, insurance, government)

    Sucks to be us if you are a USAsian, you’ll never. ever. get permission to launch your cargo on a Chinese booster. Which… means that WE are artificially holding up launch costs with our barriers to space access. The Chinese/Indians/maybe Koreans could probably cut launch costs in half, but they don’t because they don’t have to. All they have to do is match the lowest bidder from the US/EU/RF.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Doubtful. Look at the snails pace of Chinese development on their space sector. I’m pretty sure Long March 7 has been in development for just about a decade, and the tempo of their manned launches is painfully slow. This can’t be cheap taking so long to get these systems up and running, and to then not fly them. Their schedule for development, the lack of flights match likely predictions for our SLS. Their space sector looks a lot like projects like ARJ-21, C-919, J-10, CV-001, and their SSBN program. When they go it alone, the Chinese fail to shine. I’ll bet the cheapest way to send Chinese take out to a space station is with a Cygnus on a Falcon.

  • Larry J

    “The Chinese/Indians/maybe Koreans could probably cut launch costs in half, but they don’t because they don’t have to.”

    No business wants to cut prices more than they have to. If you can make a product or service much cheaper than your competitors and sell it for a price just under theirs, you make a lot of profit. You could try to drive your competitors out of business by underselling them by a great deal but you make less profit in the near term and that could have long term repercussions to your bottom line. Businesses aren’t in business to lower prices. They’re in business to make a profit.

  • JamesG

    You missed the point by reiterating what I said. You don’t have to undersell by a great deal to drive competition out of the market, only just enough or offer a superior product. Since the later isn’t likely, they have the former, except we have created barriers in the form of ITAR (and that a healthy percentage of the entire launch market is the US government) that prevents the market from finding true equilibrium via actual free competition.

  • JamesG

    But that is what they are doing. Simply keeping pace with the West. They are in no more hurry than we are.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The Chinese can “Soviet – it” and wait us out with hardware that works. The way the Soviets did with Soyuz-Salyut-Proton after we threw away Apollo-Skylab-Saturn, And again with Shuttle. I see your point, that Americans will throw away the Suburban and ask for a ride to work in the neighbors Trabant. However, we do have two space sectors in the US now. In order for the old calculus to apply the democrats would have to be in power and living up to their worst stereotypes as portrayed by the alt-right. However recent history shows that factions of both the republican and democratic party back the new private space sector, and that it’s the republicans who refuse to transfer the dependency America has been so keen to accept from foreigners to her own private space sector. It’s very much a mixed bag. Given America’s inability to know what America will do with herself, and China’s rather Soviet like performance when going it alone (both good and bad), I’d say the dice of what the future will look like are very much in the air. I’d say at this point, China is not forging a independent path that looks very promising other than the fact that they will be there. I still see the future of space flight as being contingent on what the Yankees decide to do. Of our two space programs, the big one has not decided what it wants to do. The smaller one is gaining in strength every year. Give it a few decades and it might be able to stand alone and pursue it’s path independent of the other American space program. Should that breakout occur, I don’t think the Russians and Chinese will amount to a lot if they keep going the way they are.

  • Larry J

    IIRC, the ITAR restrictions on China were due to technology being transferred that could be used in ICBMs and other military weapons. Planet Labs launched over 80 of their cubesats on an Indian rocket earlier this year, so perhaps the ITAR restrictions aren’t as severe with India or that these satellites were evaluated and the technology on board wasn’t a problem.

  • But is cargo from China an “import” as defined by ITAR? Why can’t a US company order commodities from China (water, food, etc.), THEY provide the items (I’m sure Chinese H2O is just as god as US H2O), and then have it dock to a station via an international docking adapter standard. It’s not about launching satellites or even technology, it’s about delivering basic supplies.

  • JamesG

    ITAR is a one way valve as far as the USG is concerned. American companies are free to recieve as much tech from abroad as they like, but they just can’t give any out without permission from Big Brother. As long as literally everything is sourced from the Chinese launch provider all the way down to the docking software or technical specs, then yeah. It shouldn’t be a problem. But if you want them to launch your experiments or any hardware or even software, better have your lawyer talk to the DDTC.

    And thus why no American company can/will fly Chinese.

  • JamesG

    Yes. The O Administration was trying to buddy up with the Indians. ITAR isn’t just a protectionist tool, its also a foreign policy carrot stick.

  • Larry J

    ITAR restricts US companies from selling satellite components to overseas companies, especially if any of those components can be considered dual use (having both military and civilian applications). This hurts many US manufacturers. ITAR is a huge issue for technology companies, not just defense companies. Far from being protectionist, it’s hurting American companies.

    https://defensesystems.com/articles/2012/03/12/satellite-2012-outdated-export-laws-space-competition.aspx

    http://learnexportcompliance.bluekeyblogs.com/2009/10/15/study-points-at-itar-as-hurting-us-defense-industry%E2%80%99s-competitiveness/

    http://spacenews.com/export-control-rules-hindering-space-entrepreneurs/

  • JamesG

    That depends on your prospective. If you are a big prime contractor with lots of lawyers and friends in Congress ITAR isn’t a problem, its a way of screening out smaller, potentially better competition. It keeps US aerospace companies from outsourcing and off shoring and it discourages US buyers of hardware and services from looking abroad.

  • Larry J

    ITAR primarily is focused on US exports. The importation of foreign built components can be restricted for military systems (although it still happens) for security reasons, such as concern of “back door” abilities to deactivate a weapon. That is covered by a different set of regulations than ITAR.
    https://www.pmddtc.state.gov/regulations_laws/itar.html

  • JamesG

    ITAR doesn’t just mean the hardware on the munitions list. Its any information and knowledge about them too. It is very difficult to run a business where you have to compartmentalize design information to prevent ITAR violations with foreign suppliers/partners. Impossible for all but the largest really, or of course when The Government has a Need (ie: F-35). Thus it is a major barrier to outsourcing and maintains the status quo just the way the Mil-Industrial-Complex likes it.

  • duheagle

    The Chinese/Indians/maybe Koreans could probably cut launch costs in half…

    I have no idea why you assume this. The Chinese said some time ago they can’t compete with SpaceX on price, and that was before SpaceX had demonstrated actual reusability. The Indians are competitive only for smallsats. Once new U.S. and other smallsat launchers come on-line, that may no longer be true. Also, the Indians are rather production-limited anent their launch vehicles. Korea has had a difficult time getting up to speed in rocketry. They’re in no near-term position to be challenging anyone in the launch market.

  • JamesG

    The operative words being could probably . All three suffer from the same problem. They are copying our worst bureaucratic practices instead of the massive cost advantages their industry has.