The robotic arm attached to China’s space station successfully grabbed and transferred the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship in a test on Thursday, the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) said.
It was the first such maneuver of the 10-meter-long robotic arm, which can lift objects weighing up to 20 tonnes.
In the early morning, the robotic arm reached out and grabbed the Tianzhou-2. At 6:12 a.m. Beijing Time, the Tianzhou-2 disconnected from the Tianhe core module of the space station and was swung by the robotic arm by 20 degrees. Shortly after that, the cargo craft was swung back to its original position and reconnected with Tianhe.
The whole process, which required close coordination among different systems, lasted about 47 minutes.
The operation tested the feasibility and effectiveness of using the mechanical arm to transfer a section of the space station while in orbit and verified the arm’s capability of handling heavy loads.
The success has paved the way for the follow-up in-orbit assembly work for the construction of the space station later this year.
So far, the unfinished space station is composed of the Tianhe core module, Tianzhou-2 and Tianzhou-3 cargo ships and Shenzhou-13 spaceship.
This year, China will first launch the Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft followed by the Shenzhou-14 crewed spaceship, with Tianzhou-4 set to deliver supplies for the Shenzhou-14 crew. During their stay, two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian, will be sent successively into space.
Each lab module will first dock with the front docking port of the core module and then be transferred by the robotic arm to the side docking ports on each side of the core module.
A T-shape complex will be formed, at which point the construction of the space station would be complete.
The Tianzhou-5 cargo spacecraft and the Shenzhou-15 crewed spaceship will then be launched to begin the in-orbit rotation of the crew at the space station.
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