The Tianzhou-1 cargo ship successfully docked with the unoccupied Tiangong-2 space station on Saturday, Chinese media report.
Launched on Tuesday, the cargo vessel will dock twice more with the station to test different rendezvous and docking techniques. One will involve approaching Tiangong-2 from a different direction. Another will shrinking the docking time from two days to six hours.
Tianzhou-1 will later conduct China’s first refueling of a vehicle in orbit.
The success of the mission is a crucial step in China’s plan to launch a permanent space station. The core module is scheduled to launch next year, with additional modules to follow through the completion of construction in 2022.
Tianzhou-1 is carrying a number of scientific experiments during its five-month stay in orbit. The experiments include:
- stem cell research to investigate human reproduction in space;
- how bone cells are affected by microgravity;
- germ cell differentiation research;
- fluid evaporation and condensation; and,
- high-precision electrostatic accelerometer research.