A Long March 7 rocket lifted off Thursday with Tianzhou 1, an unpiloted refueling freighter heading for China’s Tiangong 2 mini-space station to conduct several months of robotic demonstrations, practicing for the assembly and maintenance of a future permanently-staffed orbital research complex.
The 174-foot-tall (53-meter) kerosene-fueled launcher blasted off from the Wenchang space center.
China’s very first cargo spacecraft on Saturday successfully completed its first docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab. It’s one of the three dockings planned for Tianzhou-1 to check and prove its versatile dockability with remote human control and without.
Less than two days after launching from southern China, the Tianzhou 1 supply ship glided to an automated linkup with the Chinese Tiangong 2 space laboratory around 240 miles (385 kilometers) above Earth on Saturday, ready for several months of technical demonstrations to prepare for assembly of a space station in the next few years.
The Tianzhou 1 cargo craft, about the size of a double-decker bus, docked with the Tiangong 2 module at 0416 GMT (12:16 a.m. EDT) Saturday after an autonomous computer-controlled rendezvous. A docking ring between the two craft retracted a few minutes later to create a firm connection as they sailed over Chinese ground stations.