It was morning in Beijing when the Chinese Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft reached the Chinese space station’s Tianhe core module. It was launched about seven hours earlier on a Long March-7 Y5 rocket from the Wenchang base. This is the third space freighter launched to the new Chinese space station and carries propellant along with various types of supplies for the taikonauts, as the Chinese call their astronauts, who will arrive in June.
The bottom image (Courtesy Guo Zhongzheng/Xinhua) shows a screenshot of an animation from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center depicting the Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft docking with the Tianhe module on its left side. On the right side is docked the Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft, which was originally docked on the other side but was moved on April 20.
The arrival of the Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft comes shortly after the return to Earth of the Tianhe module’s second crew at the end of the Shenzhou 13 mission. Tianhe will remain uninhabited for a few weeks because the Shenzhou 14 mission is scheduled to launch in early June to spend about six months in the module. The identity of the Shenzhou 14 mission’s taikonauts has not yet been announced, as the Chinese space agency keeps it confidential until the last moment.
The Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft mission represents another success for the Chinese space program. Information on the cargo sent is limited to generic statements regarding supplies for the space station and the next crew along with various instruments and experiments. The spacecraft can be used to adjust the station’s orbit and the propellant can be transferred to the station to use the Tianhe module’s thrusters.
The Tianzhou 4 spacecraft will remain docked at the Tianhe module for a few months. It wasn’t designed to return to Earth, so it will be used to get rid of garbage and any tools that have become useless or have failed causing them to disintegrate together with the spacecraft re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. This mission continues on schedule with the development operations of the Chinese space station, part of the ambitious national space program.