China launches Tianzhou 6 cargo ship to Tiangong space station

China just sent some fresh supplies to its Tiangong space station.

A Long March 7 rocket topped with the robotic Tianzhou 6 freighter lifted off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island Wednesday (May 10) at 9:22 a.m. EDT (1322 GMT; 9:22 p.m. local time on Hainan). 

Tianzhou 6 is headed for the T-shaped Tiangong, which China finished assembling in low Earth orbit late last year. The launch "successfully sent the spacecraft into the predetermined orbit," according to an update from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (Google provided the translation to English.)

Related: The latest news about China's space program

Tianzhou 6 is packed with clothes, drinking water and food for Tiangong's current crew, the three astronauts of the Shenzhou 15 mission, as well as the future Shenzhou 16 astronauts, according to the state-run Chinese broadcaster CCTV

Shenzhou 15 launched last November and is scheduled to return to Earth this month. The three Shenzhou 16 astronauts will take their predecessors' place on Tiangong.

In addition, Tianzhou 6 is carrying 1.7 tons of propellant, 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of which will be transferred to Tiangong. The fuel infusion will allow the outpost to continue maintaining its orbit, CCTV reported. 

Tianzhou 6 marks the first mission for a new and improved version of China's robotic freighter. For example, Tianzhou 6's pressurized cargo segments can accommodate about 1,100 more pounds (500 kilograms) of payload than previous iterations of the spacecraft.

This added capacity allows China to now launch resupply missions to Tiangong every eight months on average, as opposed to every six months with previous Tianzhou vessels.

Tianzhou 6 is the first of three missions scheduled to launch to Tiangong in 2023. The other two are Shenzhou 16 and Shenzhou 17, which are expected to lift off this month and toward the end of the year, respectively.

This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. EDT with official confirmation of the successful launch.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • Atlan0001
    China's space efforts, so far, are strictly temporary, like ours. There is no permanent, no even near independent, human occupancy of, and effort in, the space frontier yet. One anti-space frontier, or simply cheap and unwilling, regime in either country, and all that country's space frontier history and effort will be gone with the wind. It happened to us during the Nixon Administration, and in everything since. It happened to China during the 14th century, and in everything since, until now, that is. It could so easily happen to both countries, thus, virtually instantaneously to all humanity and humanity's frontier future, even to life itself as to any future of energy, expansion, prosperity and survivability, all over again.