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China conducts first-ever refuelling test in space

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A file photo.

BEIJING (BNS): A Chinese spacecraft, in a first-ever feat, has successfully conducted in-orbit refuelling of a satellite.

The Tianyuan 1, China's first in-orbit refuelling system for satellites, was lifted into space by an indigenous Long March 7 carrier rocket on June 25. It was also the maiden flight of the new Long March rocket, the Chinese media reported.

The mission also marked the first use of China's fourth and latest space launch centre in Wenchang, Hainan province, the China Daily reported.

The Tianyuan 1 spacecraft conducted nine in-orbit tests including the control and refilling of liquid in microgravity and accurate measurement of propellant, the news report said quoting the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, Hunan province, which has developed the refuelling system.

The spacecraft recorded video and data when it filled three types of propellant tanks.

The results of these tests showed Tianyuan 1 has met designers' requirements, the university said, adding that the system features a high level of automation and stability.

Refueling with 60-kg of fuel can prolong a satellite's service by about 12 months, generating nearly 100 million yuan ($15 million) in revenue, the university further said.

"One of the major factors that determines a satellite's life span is the fuel it carries and when it is used. Many satellites were abandoned because their fuel was burned out even though their equipment could still function well," Wu Peixin, an aerospace industry observer in Beijing, was quoted as saying by China Daily.

He said that due to the technological complexity involved, only a handful of nations, including the United States and the former Soviet Union, have performed in-orbit refuelling tests.

"Therefore, in-orbit refueling technology is needed to enable satellites, spacecraft and space stations to work longer. This technology will also allow us to increase the operational range of space probes, helping to realize manned missions to Mars or asteroids," the analyst said.

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