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China poised to launch Tianzhou 2 cargo ship to Tianhe space station module

Update for 1:35 p.m. EDT on May 19: The planned May 19 launch of the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft has been scrubbed (opens in new tab), apparently for technical reasons. It's not clear at the moment when the next launch attempt will be.


China is gearing up to launch the first cargo mission to its new Tianhe space station module, setting the stage for the first crewed mission to the orbital lab later this year. 

A Long March 7 rocket rolled out to the launch pad on Sunday (May 16), carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft. A translated statement (opens in new tab) from the country's China Manned Space Engineering Office said the launch was targeted for 1 a.m. Beijing Time on Thursday (May 20). That's about 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) on Wednesday, May 19.

The mission calls for the cargo vessel to dock with China's Tianhe space station core module to transfer propellant and supplies to support future human missions, including the three astronauts expected to launch on a three-month Shenzhou-12 mission in June, SpaceNews added.

Related: The latest news about China's space program

A Chinese Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship rolls out to a pad at the country's Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. (Image credit: CASC)

"The launch site facilities and equipment are in good condition, and various functional inspections and joint tests will be carried out before launch as planned," the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said in a photo gallery and press release (opens in new tab) that Space.com machine-translated to English.

The pictures appeared to show dozens of unmasked workers gathering near the launch site, waving large red and blue flags. Mainland China reported just 25 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the single highest daily number that state-controlled media disclosed in six weeks, according to Reuters (opens in new tab). This weekend, the Associated Press also reported China has largely contained domestic transmission (opens in new tab) of the pandemic, whose first human case was reported in Hubei province (opens in new tab) in November 2019.

China faced international condemnation earlier this month after a larger Long March 5B core stage booster crashed back to Earth near the Arabian peninsula on May 8. The mission met its main goal of putting the Tianhe space station's first module into space, but the core stage's fall back to Earth was one of the largest uncontrolled ones of recent decades.

Just last year, a different Long March 5B core fell uncontrolled over the Atlantic Ocean near west Africa, with some pieces making it to the ground of the Ivory Coast (opens in new tab). No injuries were reported.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.