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China's new Tianzhou 4 cargo ship docks with Tiangong space station with fresh supplies

China's Tianzhou 4 freighter has arrived at its orbital destination.

The robotic Tianzhou 4 docked with Tianhe, the core module of China's under-construction Tiangong space station, on Monday evening (May 9), Chinese space officials said. The arrival occurred as planned, about 6.5 hours after the cargo spacecraft lifted off atop a Long March 7 rocket from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in southern China's Hainan Province.

The 35-foot-long (10.6 meters) Tianzhou 4 delivered thousands of pounds of supplies, propellant and science experiments to the currently unoccupied Tianhe to help prepare the module for the upcoming Shenzhou 14 crewed mission.

Related: The latest news about China's space program

China's robotic Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft docks with the Tianhe module on May 9, 2022. (Image credit: CCTV+)

Shenzhou 14 will send three astronauts to the 54-foot-long (16.6 m) Tianhe for a roughly six-month stay. The mission is expected to lift off next month. (The exact date is unclear; for most missions, China doesn't announce target launch dates, or many other details, until shortly before liftoff.)

Tianhe has been a popular destination since its launch in April 2021; the core module has already been visited by two crewed missions (Shenzhou 12 and Shenzhou 13, which returned to Earth last month) and three cargo craft (Tianzhou 2, Tianzhou 3 and now Tianzhou 4).

The first Tianzhou cargo mission, in case you were wondering, launched to China's Tiangong 2 prototype space laboratory in 2017. Tiangong 2 was intentionally deorbited to burn up in Earth's atmosphere in July 2019.

And things will get busier still aboard Tianhe in the coming months. China plans to finish building the Tiangong space station by the end of this year, an effort that will require five more launches.

Two of those five launches will loft the orbiting lab's other two modules, named Wentian and Mengtian. These modules will attach on either side of Tianhe, forming a T-shaped outpost about 20% as massive as the International Space Station, Chinese space officials have said.

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

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) 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.