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.
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.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
A white paper outlining China’s space policy for the next five years calls for a sample return mission to the moon, a landing on the far side of Earth’s closest neighbor, and the launch of an orbiter and lander to Mars by 2020.
China will also begin constructing a permanent space station and research and development work on a heavy-lift launcher, reusable boosters and satellite servicing systems.
The nation also wants to expand international cooperation in areas that include remote sensing, space applications, lunar and planetary exploration, and human spaceflight.
China claims it is testing an EmDrive propulsion system in space.
Dr. Chen Yue, Director of Commercial Satellite Technology for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) announced on December 10, 2016 that not only has China successfully tested EmDrives technology in its laboratories, but that a proof-of-concept is currently undergoing zero-g testing in orbit (according to the International Business Times, this test is taking place on the Tiangong 2 space station).
Unlike traditional engines (such as combustion and ion engines) that expel mass from the system to produce thrust, reactionless engines like the EmDrive use only electricity to generate movement. In the EmDrive, first proposed by Roger Shawyer, the microwave cavity is an asymmetric container, such as a truncated cone, with one end much larger than the other. At the narrower end, a source of electromagnetic energy (such as a magnetron) bombards the cavity with microwaves. These waves are contained and bounce off the cavity’s walls, creating electromagnetic resonance. Due to the imbalanced resonance from the complex geometry of a truncated cone, the electromagnetic field in the EmDrive becomes directionally dependent (anisotropic). In this case, the anisotropic electromagnetic field ‘pushes’ the EmDrive away from the direction of the cavity’s larger area end.
Two Chinese astronauts returned to Earth safely on Friday after a 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.
Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong were reported to be in good condition after their Shenzhou 11 spacecraft touched down in Inner Mongolia. Their mission, which lasted just over 32 days, was China’s longest human spaceflight.
The two astronauts carried out a series of experiments while on board the space station and tested technologies for use aboard a permanent, multi-module facility that China plans to begin launching around 2018. The station is set to be completed around 2022.
China successfully launched two astronauts into space on Monday morning for a 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.
Veteran Chinese astronaut Jing Haipeng and rookie Chen Dong lifted off aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft from Jiunquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The Long March 2F booster appeared to perform flawlessly in a launch shown live around the world.
Shenzhou-11 is now in orbit and has deployed its two solar arrays as planned. Chinese officials said the spacecraft is performing as planned. The astronauts will dock with the space station two days from now.
Haipeng, 50, previously flew aboard Shenzhou 7, which was a three-day mission conducted in 2008, and commanded Shenzhou-9 on a 13-day flight to the Tiangong-1 space station in 20012. This is the first flight for Dong, 37.
Tiangong-2 is similar to its predecessor in size and design. It is about half the size of the 20-meter long Salyut 1 space station flown by the Soviet Union in the early 1970’s.
China plans to launch the core of a multi-module space station around 2018. Construction of the facility is expected to be complete four years later.
This mission is the sixth Shenzhou flight with a crew aboard for the three-seat spacecraft, which resembles the Russian Soyuz transport in design. It is the first mission with a crew aboard since Shenzhou-10 in June 2013.
The Chinese successfully launched the Tiangong-2 space station into orbit from aboard a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
A two-man crew is scheduled to launch to the station in October aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.
Tiangong-2 is a precursor to a multi-module station that China will be assembling later this decade. Officials had previously said they would begin launching the new facility around 2018. However, media reports today say the first launch could occur next year.
China plans to launch the core of its permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018, with full assembling of the multi-module facility due to be complete about four years later, officials said last week.
China will end a three-year hiatus in human spaceflight late this year with the launch of the two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to the new Tiangong-2 space station, Chinese officials say. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.
Tiangong-2, which is set for launch sometime during the third quarter, is larger and more capable than the Tiangong-1 space station launched in 2011. The first station was visited by two three-person crews on missions lasting 12 and 15 days. The second crew landed in June 2013.
“We have specifically modified the interior of the new space lab to make it more livable for mid-term stays for our astronauts,” said Wang Zhongyang, a spokesman for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
“Unlike Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 will be our first genuine space lab,” he added.
Tiangong-2 is similar in design and size to the Soviet Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations flown in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The new Chinese station has docking ports at both ends to allow for resupply missions.
China plans to send up its new Tianzhou-1 supply ship during the first half of 2017 to verify propellant transfer and other key technologies. The cargo vehicle will be launched by the new medium-lift Long March-7 rocket, which is scheduled to make its inaugural flight later this year.
Chinese officials are not discussing follow-on missions to Tiangong-2. However, some reports say that a second human mission and an additional cargo ship would be launched to the space station in 2018.
Officials also announced plans to launch the core of the permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018. The permanent facility will have multiple docking ports to allow for the docking of additional modules. Assembly of the space station is expected to be completed around 2022.
China will launch about 150 of its Long March carrier rockets over the next five years, one of its space chiefs said on Friday, days ahead of celebrations marking the launch of the country’s first satellite 46 years ago.
“In the 13th Five-Year Plan period [2016-2020], we will see about 30 launches [of the Long March series] each year,” Chen Xuechuan, assistant president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told Xinhua.
There were 86 Long March missions in the five years from 2011 to 2015, and 48 from 2006 to 2010….
The launch of the SJ-10 retrievable scientific research satellite earlier this month marked the 226th mission of the Long March rocket family, and the pace of launches is accelerating.
“Our first 100 Long March missions took us 37 years. But it only took us seven years to complete the latest 100,” Chen said.
Thirty launches annually would be higher than China is planning more than 20 launches this year, including:
Tiangong-2 space station in the fall
Shenzhou-11 with two astronauts for a 30-day mission aboard the space station
Inaugural flights of the Long March 5 heavy lift rocket and the Long March 7 medium lift booster