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China successfully launches Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft into orbit

China has successfully launched the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft with the Long March-7 Y7 carrier rocket from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s island province of Hainan at 9:22 p.m. Beijing Time (2122 GMT) on Wednesday.

The cargo craft entered the designated orbit about 10 minutes after the blastoff, said the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), adding that Tianzhou-6 is working as planned and will dock with the China Space Station.

The primary purpose of Tianzhou-6 is to deliver essential supplies and spacesuits to the taikonauts currently residing aboard the China Space Station, known as the Shenzhou-15 crew. Additionally, the cargo craft will also transport maintenance components, application facilities and propellant to support the operations of the space station.

Boosted capacity

Compared to its predecessor, Tianzhou-5, Tianzhou-6 boasts a significant increase in weight, providing additional storage space and capacity. It is the first of a new generation of China’s cargo ships – from Tianzhou-6 to Tianzhou-11 – to boost their loading capacity from the previous 6.9 tonnes to 7.4 tonnes.

According to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the spacecraft’s effective loading capacity is up from 18.1 cubic meters to 22.5 cubic meters 

Notably, it carries 70 kilograms of fresh fruit, approximately twice the amount carried by Tianzhou-5. Fruit that’s convenient to eat, rich in nutrition and with long storage life is always the preferred choice. In previous missions, apples, bananas and grapes were sent there.

In addition to fruit, the space engineers are also planning to launch a large refrigerator to the space station to store frozen food.

“If the taikonauts wish to eat grilled steak, we will freeze the beef on the ground and deliver it to the space station,” said Wang Ran, lead designer of cargo spacecraft systems at CAST.

The Long March-7 carrier rocket is the country’s new-generation medium liquid-propellant carrier rocket with high reliability and safety. The Tianzhou-6 mission is the 7th launch for the Long March-7 rocket.

With a total length of 53.1 meters and a diameter of 3.35 meters, the rocket is bundled with four boosters, and has a takeoff weight of nearly 600 tonnes and a payload capacity of about 14 tonnes to low-Earth orbit.

In addition to undertaking cargo launch missions to the space station, the Long March-7 rocket will also launch low- and medium-orbit satellites in the future.

As the Tianzhou-6 flies toward the China Space Station, its predecessor Tianzhou-5 has recently detached from the space station and is currently orbiting independently. Following the departure of the Shenzhou-15 crew later this month, Tianzhou-5 will dock at another port on the station.

Assembled in late 2022, the China Space Station features a T-shaped basic structure and has already accommodated four groups of taikonauts.

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