China is preparing to launch an uncrewed cargo ship to its Tiangong “Heavenly palace” space station in preparation for the arrival of its second human crew this autumn.
The Long March 7 rocket was delivered to the Wenchang space launch site in Hainan on 16 August, where it will undergo final assembly and testing. It will carry the Tianzhou 3 cargo ship into orbit sometime in mid to late September. Simultaneously, at the Jiuquan satellite launch centre in the Gobi desert, the Shenzhou 13 mission is being readied to transport the crew of three astronauts.
A launch is planned for October and the astronauts are expected to stay in orbit until April 2022. The flight plan of a cargo ship followed by an astronaut vehicle matches the pattern of the first crew from earlier this year. Those three astronauts are still on Tiangong. They arrived in June and are expected to return to Earth in September.
The station currently consists of a single module, the Tianhe “Harmony of the heavens” core module. It is a 16.6 x 4.2 metre cylinder containing living quarters and workspace. It will be expanded next year to include two additional laboratory modules.