China's Tianzhou 6 cargo spacecraft burns up in Earth's atmosphere

a spacecraft departs a space station with the curve of earth and the blackness of space in the background.
A view of the departing Tianzhou 6 cargo spacecraft from the Tiangong space station's Tianhe core module. (Image credit: CMSA)

China deorbited its robotic Tianzhou 6 cargo spacecraft today (Jan. 19) after it completed its mission serving the country's space station.

The 35-foot-long (10.6 meters) Tianzhou 6 reentered over an area of ocean, likely the South Pacific — an area frequently used by countries for deorbiting spacecraft due to its remoteness — today at 7:37 a.m. EST (1237 GMT; 8:37 p.m. Beijing time), China's human spaceflight agency announced.

On Thursday (Jan. 18), Tianzhou 6 released Dalian-1, a small satellite developed by the Dalian University of Technology. The spacecraft has remote sensing capabilities and carries a solar sail, according to the university.

Related: China's space station, Tiangong: A complete guide

Tianzhou 6 launched atop a Long March 7 rocket on May 10, 2023, carrying supplies, propellant, experiments and other cargo to China's Tiangong space station

It was the fifth cargo mission to Tiangong and the first involving the improved version of the Tianzhou freighter. This new vehicle can accommodate about 1,100 more pounds (500 kilograms) of payload than previous iterations of the spacecraft. 

China launched its latest cargo supply mission, Tianzhou 7, on Wednesday (Jan. 17). Tianzhou 6 undocked from Tiangong a week earlier to make way for the arrival of the incoming Tianzhou 7 spacecraft.

Tianzhou 7 delivered supplies for the ongoing Shenzhou 17 crewed mission and more besides. This year, China will launch two crewed missions to Tiangong — Shenzhou 18 and 19 — and another Tianzhou supply mission, expected to fly around August.

China plans to launch Tianzhou spacecraft every eight months as part of plans to keep Tiangong constantly occupied for at least 10 years.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.