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China’s Tianzhou-4 freighter docks with space station under construction ahead of crew arrival next month

A Chinese cargo ship docked at the country’s under-construction space station on Tuesday ahead of the arrival of a new crew of three next month.

The Tianzhou-4 spacecraft launched into space atop a Long March-7 Y5 rocket at 1:56 a.m. (11:26 p.m.) from the Wenchang launch base in the southern island province of Hainan. State media said he docked at the station about seven hours later.

The freighter is carrying supplies for the crew’s upcoming six-month stay, as well as research equipment and spare parts for station maintenance.

The station’s last crew returned to Earth last month after six months on the station, China’s longest space mission to date.

China aims to complete construction of the station this year with the addition of two laboratory modules in July and October to link with the Tianhe living module which was launched in April 2021. Another cargo ship, the Tianzhou-3, remains docked at the station.

China’s space program launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making China the third country to do so using its own resources after the former Soviet Union and the United States.

It has landed robot rovers on the moon and placed one on Mars last year. China has also returned samples from the moon, and officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the moon.

The government announced in 2020 that China’s first reusable spacecraft had landed after a test flight, but no photos or details were released.

China is barred from the International Space Station due to US unease that its space program will be run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.

The Shenzhou 14 crewed mission is set to launch next month for a six-month stay. Towards the end of this mission, three more astronauts will launch aboard Shenzhou 15 for another six months, with the two crews overlapping for three to five days, marking the first time the station has had six people on board.

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