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Friday, March 05, 2021

Explained: What next for China’s first Mars mission?

On Wednesday, China’s Tianwen-1 mission successfully entered the orbit of Mars, making it the first time for a Chinese mission to be able to successfully make a journey to another planet.


Updated: February 12, 2021 8:53:42 am
The scientific goals of the mission include studying Martian topography and geology and determining the composition of the surface material, climate and environment.

On Wednesday, China’s Tianwen-1 mission successfully entered the orbit of Mars, making it the first time for a Chinese mission to be able to successfully make a journey to another planet.

China launched Tianwen-1 along with the UAE’s Hope mission and NASA’s Perseverance rover mission in July. All three missions to Mars were launched during the brief launch window available in July. During this launch window, Earth and Mars were aligned at their closest points in two years, which means using less fuel to reach the planet. Launch windows are significant since if a spacecraft is launched too early or too late, it will arrive in the planet’s orbit when the planet is not there.

The China mission

China’s first Mars probe is called Tianwen-1 (formerly Huoxing 1), which means “Questions to Heaven”. The spacecraft is carrying 13 payloads (seven orbiters and six rovers) consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, and the mission aims to study the thickness and sub-layer distribution of the Martian soil.

The spacecraft, weighing five tonnes, launched on a Long March 5 rocket–a launch system developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT)–from Xichang, China. The scientific goals of the mission include studying Martian topography and geology and determining the composition of the surface material, climate and environment.

The orbiter will use high-resolution cameras to search for a suitable landing site somewhere in the Utopia Planitia region. It weighs around 240 kg and will carry cameras, a subsurface radar, a spectrometer, a magnetometer, and atmospheric sensors.

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The rover is expected to land on Mars in May and the success of the mission will make China the third country to achieve a Mars landing after the USSR and the US. As per a report in the Air and Space Magazine, the Chinese mission will be the first to place a ground-penetrating radar on the Martian surface, which will be able to study local geology, as well as rock, ice, and dirt distribution. Two candidate landing sites have been identified, one of them being Utopia Planitia, according to Space News.

China’s previous ‘Yinghuo-1’ Mars mission, which had piggybacked on a Russian spacecraft, had failed after it could not leave the Earth’s orbit and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean in 2012.

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