China is preparing to send fresh supplies and more propellant to its space station.
The robotic Tianzhou 7 cargo spacecraft arrived recently at China's coastal Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, according to Chinese state media. The spacecraft will undergo final assembly and testing ahead of a launch on a Long March 7 rocket in early 2024.
Tianzhou 7 will deliver supplies for the Shenzhou 17 astronauts currently working aboard the Tiangong space station, as well as extravehicular activity suits, spare parts for maintenance and repair and propellant to refuel Tiangong.
The space freighter will also transport various payloads and samples for experiments to the station. In addition, the cargo craft will be used to dispose of waste created on Tiangong when the spacecraft re-enters Earth's atmosphere at the end of its mission.
Tianzhou 7 is just one of a pair of cargo missions China plans to launch in 2024; Tianzhou 8 will launch around eight months after Tianzhou 7. Each freighter will dock at Tiangong's rear port.
Like Tianzhou 6, which launched in May this year, the Tianzhou 7 and Tianzhou 8 spacecraft are improved versions of the earlier Tianzhou vehicles. The upgraded craft carry up 31,000 pounds (14,000 kilograms) to low Earth orbit, whereas Tianzhou 5 and earlier had a capacity of 29,800 pounds (13,500 kg).
China will launch the Shenzhou 18 and Shenzhou 19 crewed missions to Tiangong in 2024, along with the two planned cargo runs. Logos for all four missions were recently selected by China's human spaceflight agency after a public contest.
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Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com 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.