BEIJING ( Associated Press) — A Chinese cargo ship docked Tuesday at the space station the country is building, ahead of the arrival next month of a new three-person crew.
The Tianzhou-4 spacecraft left at 1:56 a.m. on a Long March-7 Y5 rocket from the Wenchang Launch Base in the southern island province of Hainan. state media said it had docked at the station about seven hours later.
On board it carried supplies for the six-month stay of the next crew, as well as research material and parts to maintain the orbital outpost.
The previous crew returned to Earth last month after six months on board, the longest Chinese space mission to date.
China aims to complete the station this year with two new laboratory modules in July and October that would connect to the Tianhe accommodation module, launched in April 2021. Another cargo ship, the Tianzhou-3, is still docked at the station.
China’s space program put its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making China only the third country to do so with its own resources, behind the Soviet Union and the United States.
Beijing has sent drones to the surface of the Moon and last year took another to Mars. It has also brought back lunar samples and authorities have raised a possible manned mission to the Moon.
China is excluded from the International Space Station due to US concerns that its space program is run by the People’s Liberation Army, the military branch of the Communist Party, which rules the country.