China successfully launched an unmanned cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-3 on 20 September 2021 to deliver supplies for its under-construction space station Tiangong, which is scheduled to be completed by next year. The Long March-7 Y4 rocket, carrying Tianzhou-3, blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in the southern island province of Hainan.

What

  1. Tianzhou-3 will dock with the combination of the space station core module Tianhe and Tianzhou-2 cargo craft later.
  2. The Tianzhou series are cargo spacecraft carrying material supplies to the space station which is to be ready by next year.
  3. On 18 September 2021, the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft separated from the rear docking port of Tianhe and docked with its front docking port.
  4. The combination of Tianhe and Tianzhou-2 is in good condition, waiting for docking with the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft and the next manned mission Shenzhou-13 spaceship.
  5. On 17 September 2021, three Chinese astronauts who spent 90 days, the country's longest crewed mission, returned to Earth. The three spent three months building the station.
  6. They spent 90 days at the Tianhe module on China's space station, some 380 kilometres above Earth.

Flashback

  1. China previously sent the space station's Tianhe core cabin module on 29 April 2021 and a cargo spacecraft with supplies on 29 May 2021.
  2. Once ready, China will be the only country to own a space station while the ageing International Space Station (ISS) is now a collaborative project of several countries.
  3. It is expected to be a competitor to the ISS and perhaps may become a sole space station to remain in orbit once the ISS retires.
  4. China's space station is also equipped with a robotic arm over which the US has raised concerns for its possible military applications.
  5. The space station will operate in low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 340-450 km above Earth's surface for more than 10 years.
  6. The T-shape station has one core module at the centre and a lab capsule on each side.