Tianzhou 3 freighter leaves Tiangong station

The Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft took off from the Tiangong space station on Sunday morning, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

The agency said in a brief statement that the robotic craft detached from the Tiangong at 10:59 a.m. and will be guided by ground controllers to retreat to Earth in due course.

In an earlier statement, the agency said the Tianzhou 3 would undock to leave its docking hatch at the next Wentian Space Lab.

Launched on Sept. 20 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan Province, Tianzhou 3 docked in Tiangong in low Earth orbit about 400 kilometers later that day.

Carrying nearly 6 tons of propellants and materials, the cargo ship was tasked with supporting the Shenzhou XIII mission, during which a three-member crew spent six months inside the Tiangong station of the mi -October to mid-April.

Currently, Tiangong consists of the Tianhe core module, the Tianzhou 4 spacecraft and the Shenzhou XIV spacecraft. Its current occupants – three astronauts from the Shenzhou XIV mission – arrived at the station in mid-June and are expected to fly with it until the end of the year.

During this month, the first laboratory component of the Tiangong station – Wentian, or Quest for the Heavens – will be launched from Wenchang to dock with the station, while the second laboratory named Mengtian, or Dreaming of the Heavens, will be sent in October. After being connected to the Tiangong, the station will form a T-shaped structure.

After the space labs, the Tianzhou 5 freighter and the Shenzhou XV crew are expected to arrive at the massive orbiting outpost later this year.

Each Tianzhou cargo spacecraft has two parts, a cargo cabin and a propulsion section. These vehicles are 10.6 meters long and 3.35 meters wide.

The cargo vehicle has a takeoff weight of 13.5 tons and can carry up to 6.9 tons of supplies to the space station.

In terms of carrying capacity, Tianzhou is the best space cargo ship in the world, as it is the first of its kind that can carry up to 6.9 tons of materials into space.

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