• China successfully launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-1, powered by a Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket.
  • It roared into the air from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in the southern Hainan Province, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
  • In space, the cargo ship will dock with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space station, provide fuel and other supplies, and conduct space experiments before falling back to Earth.
  • China aims to build by 2022 a permanent space station, which is expected to orbit for at least 10 years, and the debut of the cargo ship is important as it acts as a courier to help maintain the space station.
  • Without a cargo transportation system, the station would run out of power and basic necessities, causing it to return to Earth before the designated time.
  • If the Tianzhou-1 mission completes its objective, China will become the third country besides Russia and the United States to master the technique of refuelling in space.
  • Tianzhou-1 is larger and heavier than Tiangong-2, which is 10.4 metres in length and has a maximum diameter of 3.35 metres, weighing 8.6 tonnes.
  • Refuelling is conducted during docking, a process that is much more complicated than refuelling vehicles on land.
  • The refuelling procedure will take 29 steps and last for several days each time.
  • China’s fast-expanding space programme targets a landing on the dark side of the Moon by 2018.
  • It aims to launch its first Mars probe around 2020, followed by a second mission that would include collection of surface samples from the red planet.