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China Is Producing a Family of Cargo Ships To Service its Space Station

April 30, 2017 (EIRNS)—At the press briefings April 28, announcing the successful refueling mission of the Tianzhou-1 unmanned cargo craft, Chinese space officials added details to China’s plans for its future space station. Yang Baohua, deputy general manager of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., explained that two different versions of the Tianzhou cargo craft will be produced, each optimized for a different mission at the station. The first mission last week was specifically designed with extra precautions, since it was the first in-orbit refueling test.

One variant will be used to transport astronaut supplies and small parts needed at the station. Its cargo area will be "hermetically sealed, like the Tianzhou-1," he explained, isolating the cargo from the rest of the vehicle. Its cargo has to be maintained in a pressurized environment. It will also have a cargo area that is partly exposed to space, which allows for more storage, and will carry equipment that does not have to bu protected from the environment of space.

The second variant will be totally open, and will transport large parts, as well as any spacecraft that will be launched from the station. In all variants, Yang said, the propulsion system, which carries toxic and corrosive chemicals, will remain hermetically sealed, as it is on Tianzhou-1. All versions of the cargo vehicle will be sent to burn upon reentry through the atmosphere, as none will be designed to be reusable.

Space officials also announced that the launch of the first, 20-ton core module of the station has been moved to 2019 from 2018. As is the approach of the Chinese program, they will launch when they determine that they are ready. Zhao Guangheng, chief designer of scientific applications at China’s Manned Space Agency, had said on April 27 that the station crews will conduct 30 research and development projects in eight major fields aboard the station.