China launched their first robotic cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-1, with resupply mission to remaining on 380 km orbit Tiangong-2 space station.
This historical launch was performed at 11:43 UTC from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center today with Long March 7 rocket. This is large, long for 53 m modern Chinese rocket launched for the second time in history (for the first time it was launched in June 2016). Designed as potential launch vehicle for next generation Chinese manned spacecrafts is fueled with LOX and Kerosene remaining one of the most environment and technically refined Chinese rockets. It is able to deliver to LEO 13.5 t of payload.
Such large rocket was necessary to deliver to orbit weighing 13 t Tianzhou-1 delivering to orbit 6 t of payload, mainly propellant for thrusters keeping Tiangong-2 on correct orbit. Tianzhou-1 became China’s largest spacecraft launched to orbit in the history and also first robotic spacecraft operating between Earth and object placed on orbit.
Tianzhou-1 will spend in space six months performing number of maneuvers around the Tiangong-2, at least two dockings and undocking maneuvers and will also perform refueling of the station. As its construction is similar to Russian Progress, Tianzhou-1 will not return to Earth, but it completely burn in atmosphere after final undocking and reentry.