Less than two days after launching from southern China, the Tianzhou 1 supply ship was linked with the Chinese Tiangong 2 space laboratory around 240 miles above Earth on Saturday. The connection occurred after a journey from Tianzhou 1’s launch at the Wenchang Space Center on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. China completed the construction of it in 2014 and conducted the first launch there last year.
The supply ship will send propellants into the Tiangong 2 mini-space station, which launched last year and hosted two astronauts for a month-long stay in October and November, although there are no one working in it. The refueling experiment will be important technologies China needs to build and maintain a much larger orbital complex starting as soon as next year. The space station should be completed by 2022, when it will be ready to support three-person crews for expeditions lasting as long as six months.
China has not released the plan for the refueling tests, but officials said Tianzhou 1 will connect with Tiangong 2 three times and remain with the space lab for two months, then spend around three months conducting more experiments before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere later this year.