China successfully completed the in-space refuel of orbital satellites following the first launch of a new generation carrier rocket, the National University of Defense Technology announced on 30 June 2016. Similar to air refueling for planes, the process refuels a satellite in orbit in a microgravity environment and will extend a satellite's functional life and boost its maneuver capabilities considerably.
Atop the CZ-7-Y1 launch vehicle was a Yuan Zheng-1A (YZ-1A, “Expedition 1A”) upper stage, which acted as the third-stage of the launch vehicle to deliver the other six payloads into their intended orbits. Similar to the Russian Fregat [which was a Soviet era development of an ASAT upper stage], the Yuan Zheng (YZ) series upper stages are designed to serve as a “space tug” to deliver its payload satellites and spacecraft directly into their intended orbit without the need to use their own propulsion.
Developed by the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), an education and research institution of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Tianyuan-1 is the country's first in-space refueling system for orbital satellites. It was launched into orbit aboard the Long March-7 carrier rocket on 25 June 2016. A series of core independent processes were tested and verified after the launch, with data and videos recording the full process sent back to earth, the university said in a statement. "The injection process was stable, and measurement and control were precise," it said, adding that the test proved that Tianyuan-1 met design requirements.
Though an area of great interest, the process is complicated and only a few countries have begun experiments. A spacecraft that can examine, refuel, or reprogram a satellite might also be capable of disabling, destroying, or deprogramming it.
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