tiangong 1


China’s ‘Heavenly Ship’ prepares for inaugural flight, paving way for larger orbital station.

China’s space program is about to reach a new milestone Thursday (April 20) as the country prepares to launch the Tianzhou-1 spacecraft. Tianzhou-1 is China’s first space station cargo freighter and will be used to resupply the upcoming Chinese Space Station. Weighing over 13 tons, the mission will also be the heaviest payload China has ever sent into orbit.

Set for a five-month mission, Tianzhou-1 will perform the country’s first orbital logistics mission with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory. The space station testbed last saw occupants in September 2016 with the Shenzhou-11 crew.

The spacecraft will conduct three autonomous rendezvous with Tiangong-2 as well as the demonstration of the necessary logistics required to maintain an orbital outpost such as propellant transfer, orbit raising, and an expedited rendezvous to and from Earth. 

Tianzhou vessels will be able to carry up to 14,330 pounds (6,500 kilograms) of cargo into orbit; for comparison, Russian Progress vehicles that resupply the International Space Station can carry up to 5,180 pounds (2,350 kilograms) of cargo, though it is a smaller vessel.

Tianzhou-1 and Tiangong-2 are seen rendezvousing in orbit in this CNSA rendering. The two spacecraft share commonality in their design.

Tianzhou-1, which means ‘Heavenly Ship” in Chinese, largely resembles the Tiangong modules which served as space station technology demonstrators in 2011 and 2016. Both vehicles are identical in size, though the freighter has a shorter solar array wingspan. Future modules of the CSS will be significantly larger and of different designs.

The spacecraft will fly on the new Long March 7 rocket which made its inaugural - and so far only - flight in June of 2016. Long March 7, also known as CZ-7, will be the new workhorse in the Chinese space program as the country aims to retire the older Long March 2F in the next few years. All crewed and logistic flights to the CSS will use the CZ-7 while the station’s modules will be lofted by the larger Long March 5 which also made its inaugural flight in 2016.

Liftoff is scheduled for 7:41pm local time, or 7:41am EDT, on Thursday, April 20, from Launch Pad 201 at the new Wenchang spaceport on Hainan island in the South China Sea. As seen in the photos above, the rocket was rolled from the Vertical Assembly Building to LC-201 at the Wenchang Island spaceport on Monday, April 17.

Artist’s rendering of the Chinese Space Station which is scheduled to be fully assembled by the early 2020s.

Following the mission of Tianzhou-1, Chinese aerospace officials will be confident enough to begin final preparations for the modular Chinese Space Station, the second major phase of China’s aerospace program. The CSS will be a Mir-class station, smaller than the International Space Station but larger than an all-in-one outpost such as Skylab or the Tiangongs.

Two science modules will be attached to a central core module which will house crew accommodations, life support systems, and vehicle docking ports. Regular flights of Tianzhou freighters will bring experiments and supplies to maintain the outpost and its three-member crews, which will rotate in the Shenzhou spacecraft.

The core module is expected to arrive in orbit by late 2018 with the additional modules on orbit and fully assembled by early 2020. A Hubble-class telescope will also accompany the CSS in orbit though will not attach to the station. It will orbit near enough to the station to where crewmembers can easily make repairs to the telescope, unlike servicing missions to the Hubble which required a dedicated space shuttle mission independent of the ISS.



Space Women in 2013

The earth has made yet another round around the sun. And what a year it was.

The highlight was of course the spaceflights of Karen Nyberg and Wang Yaping. Karen Nyberg launched on the 28th of may on her first long duration mission to the International Space Station. She spend a total amount of 166 days adn a little over 6 hours in space and landed safely back on earth on the 11th of November. She had the position of flight engineer and amongst other captured and docked the HTV-4 and the Cygnus capsule to the space station.

During this mission Wang Yaping also flew into space on the Shenzhou X mission to the Chinese space station Tiangong-1. The mission launched on 11th of June and lasted 14 days. She became the second Chinese woman to fly into space and the 57th women overall. On the 20th of June she gave a lesson from space which was followed by over 60 million Chinese students.

In 2013 NASA also introduced a new astronaut class, giving hope for the future. This was the first astronaut class which was composed of 50% males and 50% females.  Jessica Meir, Christine Hammock, Nicole Mann and Anne McLain were the lucky women to be picked. along with their male counterparts Tyler Hague, Victor Glover, Andrew Morgan and Josh Cassada they will be training to become the new astronauts of NASA.

NASA was not the only one with plans to send people into space. Axe held a competition to send people into space on a Lynx suborbital spaceplane. Out of the 23 worldwide winners, 2 were female. Norwegian Tale Sundlisæter and Malaysian Pirada Techavijit have succeeded to secure their seats into space. Tale and Pirada are true space enthusiast, they both studied satellite space systems and are working in the space industry. On top of that Tale is the Norwegian national point of contact for the Space Generation Advisory Council.

As it goes with live, people have also passed away this year. Most notably astrophysicist Margherita Hack passed away on June 29th. She was the first women to head the Trieste Astronomical Observatory and a passionate science advocate. There was also the loss of Jerri Truhill, female test pilot and part of NASA’s Mercury 13 program. After Mercury 13 she spent her time flying around in a pink World war 2 fighter.  

A number of the women we have seen working in space have also changed jobs. Lori Garver, previously Deputy Administrator of NASA, started work as General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association in September. Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan was appointed Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator early in 2013. Canadian astronaut Julie Payette has become the Chief Operating Officer for the Montreal Science Centre. NASA Astronaut Pamela Melroy had worked for the FAA, but this year decided to join DARPA as Deputy Director of the Tactical Technology Office. Astronaut Susan Helms was nominated to become vice commander of the US Air Force Space Command, however she decided to retire, which caused the nomination to be withdrawn. 

As a last highlight of 2013 we should not forget that Sally Ride received the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the Space Foundations General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award posthumously.

Hopefully next year will be just as exciting. There are 2 women, Yelena Serova and Samantha Cristoforetti, scheduled for missions to the space station. And, if we’re lucky, Virgin Galactic or the Chinese will surprise us.

Happy 2014 to everyone, make it a good one!


China prepares for next series of space station missions.

Nearly five years after their historic first space station was launched, China is preparing to repeat the immense success of Tiangong-1 with its successor, Tiangong-2. 

The 18,800 pound single-module laboratory arrived at the Jiuquan launch site July 9, after being manufactured in Beijing. Carrying a crew of three to the laboratory is the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, which arrived August 6th, and is shown above undergoing launch preparations.

Although Tiangong-2 is scheduled for a launch around September 15, the crew of Shenzhou-11 won’t launch until mid-October, allowing for ground controllers to remotely perform checkouts of the laboratory. Shenzhou-11 will launch two crewmembers instead of three, using the extra space to bring crew supplies. 

China will also be testing their new Tianzhou space freighter, an unmanned cargo ship similar to the Russian Progress. Tianzhou-1 is scheduled for launch sometime in the first half of 2017.


Tiangong-2 blasts into orbit becoming China’s second space laboratory.

China returned to active human spaceflight operations earlier today when their second space station, Tiangong-2, launched into orbit.

Liftoff occurred at 10:04am EDT, or 11:04pm Beijing Time, September 15. Shortly after the laboratory separated from the Long March rocket’s upper stage, its two solar arrays were deployed. 

The 19,000 pound module launched on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China. Almost identical to the Tiangong-1 module launched in 2011, Tiangong-2 has been slightly modified to accommodate more science experiments. Additionally, a reconfigured living space can extend crew mission by up to a month.

The most prominent change was the addition of a secondary docking port on the space station’s aft end. This will allow a Tianzhou cargo vessel to dock to the laboratory.

Slated for sometime in early 2017, Tianzhou is China’s version of the Progress cargo freighters that resupply the International Space Station. Testing the cargo ship on Tiangong-2 will pave the way for their routine operation on China’s large modular space station, set for launch before the end of the decade.

Four weeks of orbital maneuvers and systems checks will prepare the module for the arrival of the two-person Shenzhou-11 crew, slated for a mid-October launch from Jiuquan. The crew will spend up to 30 days at the laboratory, more than twice as long as previous Shenzhou crews to Tiangong-1.

Check out our Tiangong-2 coverage hereincluding the rocket’s rollout.

For the first time in their space program, Chinese state media will broadcast the docking of Shenzhou-11 to the Tiangong-2 space laboratory, which is just minutes away. Docking is projected to occur around 3:30pm EDT.

Unlike the previous two crewed missions to the earlier Tiangong-1, Shenzhou-11 will deploy a microsatellite that will photograph and record the orbital maneuvers. Banxing 2 will be deployed shortly before the spacecraft begins its final approach to the laboratory.

Watch the docking live here.