As China prepares for the launch of the Tianzhou 5 cargo spacecraft, the Tianzhou 4 is getting ready to return.
The combination of the Tianzhou 5 cargo spacecraft and the Long March 7 Y6 carrier rocket was transferred to the launching area in Wenchang, Hainan province, on Wednesday before the Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft departed from the Tiangong space station in the afternoon, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
The agency said in a release that the Tianzhou 5 cargo spacecraft will be launched in the near future at an appropriate time.
The facilities at the launch site, the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, are in good condition, and various pre-launch function checks and joint tests will be carried out as planned, the agency added.
The Tianzhou 4 craft undocked from Tiangong at 2:55 pm and will be guided by ground controllers back to Earth in due course, the agency said.
Launched on May 10 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, Tianzhou 4 docked with Tiangong in a low-Earth orbit of around 400 kilometers later that day.
Carrying nearly 6 metric tons of propellants and materials, including more than 200 packages, the spacecraft was tasked with supporting the Shenzhou XIV mission, during which a three-member crew is scheduled to spend six months inside the space station.
The mission crew has so far spent more than five months aboard the station.
Tianzhou 4 is the third cargo ship to have docked with Tiangong, following the Tianzhou 2 and 3.
Designed to function for more than a year, each Tianzhou cargo spaceship has two parts — a cargo cabin and a propulsion section. The vehicles are 10.6 meters long and 3.35 meters wide.
The cargo vehicle has a liftoff weight of 13.5 tons and can transport up to 6.9 tons of supplies to the space station.
Currently, the Tiangong station consists of a core module, two lab modules and a spacecraft used to transport the astronauts.