A Long March 7 rocket carrying a robotic cargo ship rolled out to a pad at China’s Wenchang Space Launch Site on Saturday (May 7) for a planned flight to the country’s new space station.
The Chinese rocket is carrying the Tianzhou 4 cargo ship, an automated supply ship that is expected to launch to China’s Tiangong space station core module Tianhe in the next few days. While the China National Space Administration has not publicly released a launch date, media reports have stated the mission could launch on Monday, May 9, at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT), according to Spaceflight Now. That would be early May 10 Beijing Time.
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The Tianzhou 4 cargo ship is the third automated resupply ship to visit the new Tianhe module of the Tiangong space station (Tianzhou 1 flew to China’s space station prototype Tiangong 2 in 2017). Its flight comes on the heels of China’s most recent long-duration mission to the station, called Shenzhou 13, which sent three astronauts to Tiangong for six months last October and returned to Earth last month.
China’s Tianzhou cargo ships are 35 feet long (10.5 meters) and designed to haul thousands of pounds of supplies, scientific gear and propellant to the Tiangong space station. Like the uncrewed Progress cargo ships launched to the International Space Station by Russia, China’s Tianzhou ships (the name translates to “Heavenly Vessel”) are designed to be disposable and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their mission.
Tianzhou 4’s predecessor, Tianzhou 3, launched to Tiangong in September 2021. On April 20, it moved from the Tianhe module’s rear docking port to its forward port to make way for the arrival of Tianzhou 4, the China Manned Space Engineering agency has said.