At 21:22 on May 10 Beijing time, the Long March 7 Y7 carrier rocket carrying the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft was ignited and launched at China’s Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.
Tianzhou-6 will be the first spacecraft to be greeted by the crew of Shenzhou-15 in orbit. It has been optimized and improved in terms of increasing cargo carrying capacity, reducing costs, improving efficiency, and using China-produced components. The overall length of Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft is 10.6 meters with a total weight of 13.5 tons. Its payload capacity has been increased from 6.9 tons to 7.4 tons, making it the world’s most powerful active cargo spacecraft for transporting goods to space.
The cargo transported by Tianzhou-6 mainly includes clothing, food, drinking water, etc. Among them, the weight of fresh fruits is about 70 kilograms, which is about twice the weight carried by Tianzhou-5. These fruits will simultaneously meet the dietary needs of the crew members in Shenzhou-15 currently at the space station and those on Shenzhou-16 who are going to enter the space station. Subsequently, there are plans to send a large refrigerator to ensure that astronauts can eat steak and other foods in space.
The space station flies in space and sometimes needs to adjust its posture, which requires fuel consumption. Therefore, in addition to transporting supplies for astronauts, the cargo spacecraft also has an important mission of refueling the space station. This time, Tianzhou-6 carried 1.75 tons of propellant, of which about 700 kilograms are intended to be refueled into the space station.
Tianzhou-6 will also carry xenon gas cylinders needed for the space station’s electric propulsion. Unlike general cargo, xenon gas cylinders are large in volume and weight, so the spacecraft system has been specially designed for this purpose. At the same time, Tianzhou-6 also carries three experimental cargo spacecraft: a new type of laser radar, inter-satellite links and supercritical flow payloads.
The Long March 7 Y7 carrier rocket is responsible for carrying out the launch mission of Tianzhou-6. Previously, the Long March 7 carrier rocket carried out five launch missions for the Tianzhou spacecraft, ensuring stability and reliability. Building on previous technological advancements, the Long March 7 Y7 carrier rocket has further optimized its engine system and enhanced structural reliability.
Tianzhou-6 is the first of three missions planned to be launched at the Tiangong Space Station in 2023. The other two are Shenzhou-16 and Shenzhou-17, which are expected to launch this month and in October respectively.