China plans to launch Tianzhou-1, the country’s first cargo spacecraft, from Hainan province in April to deliver supplies to the nation's orbiting space laboratory, according to state media reports.
The 10.6-meter long and 13-ton craft can carry up to 6.5 ton of cargo. If successful, it will be the largest and heaviest spacecraft China has ever launched.
Tianzhou-1's main mission is to test the transfer of liquid propellant to the orbiting Tiangong-2 lab, launched last September. It will carry out 14 experiments in space including space cold atomic clock, quantum key distribution test, and plant cultivation test.
In October, China launched Shenzhou-11, a manned spaceflight of the Shenzhou program of China, carrying two astronauts. During their 30-days stay, the two astronauts completed a number of medical and space science experiments, as well as testing Tiangong-2 module's systems.
China plans to develop a permanent space station by 2022. With International Space Station coming out of service in 2024, China will be the only country having a space station at that time.
Tianzhou-1 is around 11 meter high and has two compartments. The lower compartments, which is thinner, is the propelling module, providing power for the craft orbiting in space. The upper compartments, with a larger diameter, is the cargo, carrying materials for Tiangong-2.
According to the plan, Tianzhou-1 will dock with the space lab three times for a total of six hours.
"Two days after the launch of Tianzhou-1, it will dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab. The whole process takes about two months. After the completion of the two-month docking, we will check the status of the equipment and refill the propellant," said Bai Mingsheng, Tianzhou-1 chief designer of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.