Skip to main content

Watch live at 1:56 pm ET: China to launch Tianzhou 4 cargo ship to Tiangong space station

A Long March 7 rocket carrying a robotic cargo ship rolled out to a pad at China's Wenchang Space Launch Site on Saturday (May 7) for a planned flight to the country's new space station. 

The Chinese rocket is carrying the Tianzhou 4 cargo ship, an automated supply ship that is expected to launch to China's Tiangong space station core module Tianhe today (May 9). While the China National Space Administration has not publicly released a launch date, media reports have stated the mission could launch on Monday, May 9, at 1:56 p.m. EDT (1756 GMT). That would be early May 10 Beijing Time. 

Related: China lays out big plans for its new Tiangong space station

The Tianzhou 4 cargo ship is the third automated resupply ship to visit the new Tianhe module of the Tiangong space station (Tianzhou 1 flew to China's space station prototype Tiangong 2 in 2017). Its flight comes on the heels of China's most recent long-duration mission to the station, called Shenzhou 13, which sent three astronauts to Tiangong for six months last October and returned to Earth last month.

China's Tianzhou cargo ships are 35 feet long (10.5 meters) and designed to haul thousands of pounds of supplies, scientific gear and propellant to the Tiangong space station. Like the uncrewed Progress cargo ships launched to the International Space Station by Russia, China's Tianzhou ships (the name translates to "Heavenly Vessel") are designed to be disposable and burn up in Earth's atmosphere at the end of their mission. 

Tianzhou 4's predecessor, Tianzhou 3, launched to Tiangong in September 2021. On April 20, it moved from the Tianhe module's rear docking port to its forward port to make way for the arrival of Tianzhou 4, the China Manned Space Engineering agency has said (opens in new tab)

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Instagram.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.