China’s Tianwen-1 probe has successfully entered the orbit of Mars on Wednesday, February 10, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced. Its arrival to the Red Planet has come just a day after the UAE’s Hope probe’s slipping into Martian orbit on Tuesday.
With the spacecraft’s arrival to Mars, China, now, is the only sixth entity to reach the Red Planet following the US, India, the former Soviet Union, European Space Agency and the UAE. This historic feat has been achieved just eight weeks after the Chinese mission Chang’e 5 had returned back to the Earth with the rock samples from the Moon.
Tianwen-1, which means “Question to Heaven”, is a five-ton bundle of a six-wheeled rover, lander and orbiter. It set off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island in south China on July 22, 2020. It is one of the three missions to Mars which all launched last July when the Red Planet was the nearest to the earth.
According to CNSA, Tianwen-1 will collect important information about Mars’ geological structure, atmosphere, environment and soil. The probe will also investigate for any signs of water and past life. The probe is expected to land on the Martian surface in May or July.
“Exploring the vast universe is the common dream of all mankind. We will cooperate sincerely and go hand in hand with countries all over the world to make mankind’s exploration of space go further,” Zhang Kejian, director of the China National Space Administration, said in a statement Wednesday.
Tianwen-1 is designed to study Mars in a variety of ways as its orbiter and lander have different functions. The orbiter consists of a high-resolution camera, a spectrometer, a magnetometer and an ice-mapping rader device. It will observe the planet from above remaining on the Martian orbit and also transmit communications from the rover.
The rover is equipped with cameras, meteorological and geological instruments and ground-penetrating radar, which will search for pockets of water beneath Mar’s red dirt. According to the Planetary Society, these pockets on Earth host microbial communities so the detection of these pockets on Mars will prove significant in the search of life on other planets.
As for the lander, it will serve as a delivery platform for the rover, providing a ramp for the rover to roll off of and traverse the Martian terrain.
In May or July, the lander and rover will detach from the probe and set out to land on a large plain in Mar’s northern hemisphere called Utopia Planitia. If everything goes well, China will become the second country following the US to land and operate a rover on the surface of the Red Planet.
Previously, the Soviet Union’s Mars 3 mission, in 1971, succeeded the first-ever soft touchdown on the Martian surface but the lander failed to operate instantly after the touchdown.
China’s Tianwen-1 is the first-ever probe, set off to Mars, consisting of both an orbiter and a rover. The probe was built by the China National Space Administration with some international collaboration.
The Tianwen-1 orbiter will orbit Mars for at least one Martian year (approximately two Earth years), while the rover is scheduled to venture the planet for 90 Mars days (sols) which is about 93 Earth days.
Tianwen-1 is not China’s first mission to Mars. China had first attempted to reach Mars on November 8, 2011, with its probe – Yinghuo – designed to orbit Mars and study its environmental structure. It launched from Kazakhstan, along with the Russian spacecraft Phobos-Grunt. But the mission failed with a malfunction leaving the probes stranded in Earth’s orbit. Later, in 2012, the probes disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean.
Two out of three Mars missions, the UAE’s Hope and China’s Tianwen-1 have successfully reached the Martian orbit, this February, while NASA’s Perseverance is set to land on Mars on February 18. Perseverance will search for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet by collecting rock samples on the planet.
“More countries exploring Mars and our solar system means more discoveries and opportunities for global collaboration,” the Planetary Society said. “Space exploration brings out the best in us all, and when nations work together everyone wins.”
Tianwen-1’s successful insertion into the Martian orbit was appreciated by NASA and the European Space Agency.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s top science official, wrote on Twitter, “Congratulations to China for the Tianwen-1 mission successfully entering Mars orbit today. There is much to discover about the mysteries of Mars and we look forward to your contributions!”
China aims to bring Martian samples back to Earth by 2030. The samples will be studied and examined to check the potential sign of life and find out the reasons behind Mars’ long-ago transition from a relatively warm and wet planet to its present cold and dry state.