China’s Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft successfully docked with the nation’s orbiting space station on Tuesday to deliver supplies to the station, which is scheduled to be completed this year.
Carried by the Long March-7 Y5 rocket, the Tianzhou-4 blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan at 1:56 a.m. (Beijing Time), according to the China Manned Space Agency.
Like previous cargo flights, the Tianzhou-4 carries three categories of supplies, including six-month living supplies for astronauts, spare parts for space station maintenance, and space research equipment.
The Tianzhou-4 adopted the fast-docking technology, which took only 6.5 hours to dock with the space station.
Li Zhihui, deputy commander of the cargo spacecraft system of the No. 5 Research Institute under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation has explained the process of the docking in a previous interview with China Media Group.
Li explained that after separating from the rocket, the cargo craft moves from the perigee orbit to that of the space station by means of long-range autonomous guidance and near-range autonomous control to achieve fast-docking.
“The long-range autonomous guidance is realized through an orbital change powered by jet engine, which takes Tianzhou cargo spacecraft from a 200-kilometer-high perigee orbit to a space station orbit at 393 kilometers. Then the cargo craft enters the phase of autonomous control, where it docks with the core module after passing through four anchoring points including 5 kilometers, 400 meters, 200 meters and 19 meters away from the space station. The whole process takes 6.5 hours,” he said.
Five more space flight missions will be carried out this year to complete the in-orbit construction of China’s space station.
The Shenzhou-14 spacecraft will take three astronauts to the space station in June, stationing them in the core module for six months. The Wentian lab module will dock with the Tianhe core module in July, and the Mengtian lab module will be docked with the core module in October to complete the in-orbit construction of a T-shaped space station.
Over 200 packages in more than 40 cabinets
The Tianzhou-4 cargo craft is a fully sealed cargo craft with a total weight of 13.5 tonnes. It carries 6.9 tonnes of cargo, making it the world’s most capable cargo craft in service, according to China Media Group.
The craft is 10.6 meters long and its width reaches 14.9 meters when solar panels are fully unfolded. It consists of two parts: a propelling module 2.8 meters in diameter and a cargo storage module 3.35 meters in diameter.
The spacecraft has over 200 packages in more than 40 cabinets for different units.
The craft has also brought seeds, including wheat, soybean and corn varieties, collected from universities for experiments in space.
According to Li, the research team made several adjustments on Tianzhou-4 to enable the astronauts to find the packages more easily, besides expanding storage by optimizing package designs.
Xu Xiaoping, deputy chief designer of Tianzhou-4 cargo craft, said that the planning will be more precise in future missions as the consumption of the propellant in this mission is used just as planned. “We can bring more packages next time” without carrying extra fuel, Xu said.
Tianzhou-4 is expected to remain with the space station till the completion of Shenzhou-14 mission.
China’s space observation ship departs for 100th mission
China’s space observation ship, Yuanwang-3 on Thursday set sail for its first voyage this year from a port in east China’s Jiangsu Province. The vessel will carry out its 100th maritime mission during this voyage.
Yuanwang-3 has become the first ship of China’s Yuanwang fleet to embrace its 100th mission.
Commissioned on May 18, 1995, Yuanwang-3 is a second-generation Chinese space tracking ship for maritime measurement and control and communication missions for satellites, spacecraft, and space stations.
It has undertaken more than 90 maritime tracking and monitoring tasks for spacecraft, including the Shenzhou spaceships, Chang’e lunar probes, and BeiDou satellites.
Space agencies from BRICS countries begin satellite and data sharing
The BRICS countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, launched a new cooperation committee on Wednesday to share remote sensing satellites and data.
The new committee, composed of space agencies from the five countries, held its first meeting by video on the same day.
The shared data will help the countries to better protect the environment, reduce disaster risks and deal with climate change, according to Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Zhang said the committee involves higher-level cooperation among BRICS countries.
The meeting also passed technical standards of data sharing and the procedures for observation cooperation.
Carlos Augusto Teixeira de Moura, president of the Brazilian Space Agency, said Brazil will also commit to this cooperation.
Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s Roscosmos, said it’s important for BRICS countries to align their perspectives and coordinate efforts in the satellite constellation, as well as the peaceful use of outer space.
The five space agencies signed an agreement for cooperation in remote sensing satellite data sharing in August 2021.
The constellation contains six existing satellites from the five countries: Gaofen-6 and Ziyuan III 02, both developed by China, CBERS-4, jointly developed by Brazil and China, Kanopus-V type, developed by Russia, and Resourcesat-2 and 2A, both developed by India.
It also includes five ground stations in each member country.
China’s ground station for the constellation was established on April 24, China’s Space Day, in Wenchang, south China’s Hainan Province.
“This is the first time an international cooperation mechanism in Earth observation data reached this kind of scale and depth,” said Meng Lingjie, deputy chief of the Earth Observation Data Center of the CNSA.
He said shared satellite data could prove instrumental in issues of concern for developing countries.
“For example, in the pilot program for each country, the constellation will help address problems with food crises. Issues with food production are key for many. With its coverage, precision and timelines, the satellite constellation is good for mapping out grain output and monitoring damage from natural disasters and pests.
The CNSA also said it will put the BRICS constellation to better use and increase the number of satellites and ground stations.
Space cooperation between China and other countries
Gan Yong, an official from the Department of International Cooperation of the CNSA, said “BRICS cooperation in space will eventually facilitate high-quality partnership among BRICS countries.”
Gan also said the CNSA’s international cooperative endeavors have not swayed in the last two years, including in the recent period, even with the changes in the world situation.
“Since 2020, the world has faced unprecedented challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic. Those challenges have changed the landscape of space cooperation. But the CNSA and the Chinese government have been standing with their principle of equality and mutual benefits … and have been promoting international cooperation.”
Gan said the CNSA has continued to promote cooperation in lunar probe and deep space exploration, including in the Chang’e-6 and the following Chang’e-7 missions. He said the CNSA is working with international partners for jointly developing the international moon base for science.
The administration has also ramped up cooperation in satellite use, including the BRICS constellation and the Belt and Road Space Information Corridor.
“Recently, the global situation has affected the field of space development. But we believe so long as we aim to work together and take each other’s concerns in mind, we will achieve more in international cooperation and space exploration,” he told CGTN.
China’s first compressed air energy storage in salt cavern connects to grid
China’s compressed air energy storage in a salt cavern connected to the grid in Changzhou, east China’s Jiangsu Province, on Thursday.
This is the first time China has used a salt cavern for energy storage by compressing air.
The energy storage power station has compressed and stored the ambient air under pressure in an underground salt cavern. When the electricity is required, the pressurized air is heated and expanded in an expansion turbine driving a generator for power production.
The salt cavern was formed after the underground salt layer in an area was been mined, which is a stable confined place, ideal for compressing air. The salt cavern for this energy storage is about 1,000 meters deep under the ground, and has enough room for storage as about 105 swimming pools.
“The energy storage means we compress the air at off-peak time and release it at peak time so we can cut down the electricity cost,” said Xie Weiwei, deputy general manager of a subsidiary of China National Salt Industry Group Co. during an interview with China Media Group.
“The capacity of this energy storage reaches 300,000 kWh of electricity, an equivalent to the electricity consumption of 60,000 residents for one day.”
“The power plant successfully connected to the grid can help us use electricity more efficiently and be able to store other renewable energy such as the wind power and PV power,” said Lei Zhen, chief engineer of the control center of State Grid subsidiary in Jiangsu Province. “We are exploring more commercial applications for the energy storage technology.”
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