HELSINKI — The Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft completed an automated in-orbit docking with the Tianhe space station module Monday night after launching from Wenchang.
The Chinese cargo ship completed berthing with the aft port of the Tianhe module at 8:54 pm ET on May 9, seven hours after launch on a Long March 7 rocket from the coastal launch center of Wenchang in the southern province of Hainan.
The launch took place Monday at 1:56 pm ET, marking the fifth flight of Long March 7, designed specifically for cargo missions to the space station.
The 13,500-kilogram Tianzhou-4 spacecraft is the sixth of 11 missions for the construction of the T-shaped three-module China Space Station and delivers about 6.9 tons of supplies for the Shenzhou-June 14 mission .
Shenzhou-14 will see three astronauts enter the Tianhe core module for the start of a six-month mission that will oversee the arrival of the space station’s second and third modules.
Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”), which features a new airlock for extravehicular activities, living quarters that will enable crew transfers and a small robotic arm, is scheduled to launch on a Long March 5B in July.
Mengtian (“Dreaming of the Heavens”) will be released in October. After docking, the modules will move to radial docking ports in a docking hub launched with Tianhe.
Tianzhou-4’s cargo consists mainly of supplies for astronauts, but also includes space station maintenance equipment, apparatus for space science experiments, and a refrigerator for medical and space science experiments. It also includes a variety of seeds that will be exposed to radiation in low Earth orbit and then analyzed and used on Earth.
Daily supplies now include more vegetables than the previous Shenzhou-12 and 13 missions to Tianhe, following feedback from the astronauts. “So now we have 32 kinds of vegetables on board,” Wang Chunhui, manager of the test team affiliated with the Tianzhou-4 mission of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, told CCTV.
“The changes were made because the astronauts said that when they were in orbit they expected there to be more vegetables. So this is an optimization that we have done in terms of food supply,” Wang said.
The space station’s first payload mission, Tianzhou-2, was exorbitant March 31, having supplied the Shenzhou-12 mission and used in transposition tests. Tianzhou-3 was subsequently undocked from the aft port of Tianhe and docked with the forward port to make way for the arrival of Tianzhou-4.
Shenzhou-14 will then be launched on a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan in the Gobi desert. The China Manned Space Agency has not revealed a precise launch time and date, but the mission is expected to be in early June.