China has advanced preparations for the next crewed mission to its Tianhe space station, successfully launching a robo-truck carrying enough supplies to sustain a crew for six months.
State-run organ Xinhua today reported that the 389th mission to use a Long March booster lifted off on September 19th, carrying with it the Tianzhou-3 cargo vehicle.
Tianzhou-3 docked with Tianhe on September 20th. Xinhua‘s report revealed that the payload includes “nearly six tonnes of goods and materials, including living supplies for the astronauts, one extravehicular space suit for back-up, supplies for extravehicular activities, space station platform materials, payloads and propellants”.
The report also revealed that China’s National Space Administration has revisited the colour used on cargo labels “to help astronauts identify the contents”.
“The packages on Tianzhou-2 featured markings and QR codes to identify the contents, but as the packaging was all beige, they were a little hard for astronauts to sort and organize,” the report states. “On Tianzhou-3, the supplies are packaged in different colours and with a QR code.” They’re also packed in materials that use “a unique ingredient extracted from crab shells”. Sadly, the state-owned organ disclosed no further detail about the crabby wrappings.
But Xinhua did confirm that China plans to launch a crewed mission to Tianhe by the end of 2021, and then six more missions in 2022.
Two of next year’s efforts will launch new modules, and another pair will be cargo trucks.
The remainder will be crewed missions. Do the math, readers: China has said it intends constant use of Tianhe and can now send up six months’ worth of supplies in a single launch. It looks like the Middle Kingdom is going to meet its orbital goals. ®