The Tianzhou 5 cargo spacecraft undocked from the Tiangong space station on Friday afternoon to start a period of solo flight, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
The agency said in a news release the robotic cargo vehicle departed the Tiangong station at 3:26 pm and then began to use its own propulsion system for flight.
Tianzhou 5 is scheduled to re-dock with the space station in the coming weeks after the departure of the Shenzhou XV crew, who will return to Earth after their six-month journey ends.
Launched on Nov 12 from the Wenchang Space Center in Hainan province, Tianzhou 5 docked with Tiangong in a low-Earth orbit of around 400 kilometers later that day.
The cargo ship carried propellants for the Tiangong, living necessities, scientific and technological payloads and a mini satellite that was deployed in orbit in December.
The first craft to visit the Tiangong space station this year — the Tianzhou 6 cargo ship — is scheduled to launch soon to transport materials for the next manned mission, Shenzhou XVI.
Tiangong's current inhabitants — the three members of the Shenzhou XV mission — arrived at the station on Nov 30 to take charge of the massive orbital outpost from the three Shenzhou XIV astronauts.
At present, the Shenzhou XV astronauts — mission commander Major General Fei Junlong, Senior Colonel Deng Qingming and Senior Colonel Zhang Lu — have conducted four spacewalks, surpassing previous crews.
During their spacewalks, Fei's team has mounted equipment required for extravehicular scientific experiments and technological demonstrations.
Their tasks are scheduled to conclude around the end of May.