China conducts its first in-space refueling test

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A Chinese spacecraft has successfully completed for the first time an in-orbit refueling test of a satellite.

The Tianyuan 1, China’s first refueling system for in-orbit satellites, was launched on June 25 by a Long March 7 rocket from China’s newest space launch center in Wenchang, Hainan province. It was also the first flight of the new Long March rocket, Chinese media reports.

The spacecraft conducted several in-orbit tests that included the control and refilling of liquid fuel tanks on the satellite in microgravity, and accurate measurement of propellant that was delivered to it. Refueling with 60kg of fuel prolongs a satellite’s useful life by approximately 12 months, Chinese news agency China Daily reported.

The financial benefits are substantial because extending the useful life of the satellites reduces the number needed in space to replace those that run out of fuel but are otherwise perfectly functional.

Only a few countries, including the USA, have performed in-orbit satellite refueling tests; the procedure could become a non-event if robotic spacecraft take on the task.

July 8, 2016

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