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Chinese Cargo Spacecraft Burns Up in Earth's Atmosphere

Tianzhou-1 and Tiangong-2
Artist's illustration of China's robotic Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft docking with the Tiangong-2 space lab on April 22, 2017. (Image credit: CMSE)

China's first resupply craft, Tianzhou-1, has been deorbited under orders from ground controllers.

Following a set of braking maneuvers, the robotic cargo ship plunged into Earth's atmosphere and burned up late Friday (Sept. 22) Beijing time, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

Tianzhou-1 launched on April 20 and docked with China's orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab two days later.

Over the past five months, Tianzhou-1 and Tiangong-2 accomplished a trio of refueling sequences: One on April 27, a second on June 15 and a final one on Sept. 16, Xinhua reported.

Tiangong-2 was unoccupied during these activities.

Chinese space officials view the refueling and docking activities as a prelude to the country's building of a larger space station in the mid- 2020s.

Leonard David is author of "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet," published by National Geographic. The book is a companion to the National Geographic Channel series "Mars." A longtime writer for, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook or Google+. This version of this story was posted on

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