China just launched a cargo mission to its newly completed space station in preparation for a coming crewed flight.
The Tianzhou 5 freighter lifted off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in southern China's Hainan Province atop a Long March 7 rocket at 9:03 p.m. EST on Nov. 11 (0203 GMT and 10:03 a.m. Beijing time, Nov. 12).
The 35-foot-long (10.6 meters) freighter docked with the Tiangong space station just over two hours later, at 11:10 p.m. EST (0410 GMT and 12:10 p.m. Beijing time on Nov. 12), Chinese space officials said (opens in new tab).
China's Tianzhou cargo spacecraft weigh about 29,760 pounds (13,500 kilograms), with a cargo capacity of roughly 15,200 pounds (6,900 kg). The Tianzhou 5 mission delivered supplies needed for the upcoming Shenzhou 15 crewed mission, which could launch as soon as the end of November.
A detailed breakdown of the cargo was not published ahead of launch, but Tianzhou 5 was expected to carry propellant for the space station along with food and supplies for astronauts. It also carried five cubesats and five other experiments to Tiangong as part of its mission, China's main space contractor revealed (opens in new tab).
China launched two modules in recent months to join the already-orbiting Tianhe core module. These major missions marked the completion of the three-module, T-shaped Tiangong space station, which is currently hosting the three Shenzhou 14 astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe.
With all the modules in place, the Shenzhou 14 trio will be able to welcome aboard the currently unnamed Shenzhou 15 crew before the end of the year and conduct China's first Tiangong crew handover.
Tiangong is about 20% as massive as the International Space Station (ISS). China intends to keep Tiangong occupied and operational for at least decade, meaning it should outlast the ISS and possibly become the only space station in orbit above Earth.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. EST on Nov. 12 with news of successful docking.