Chinese space expedition Tianwen-1 reaches Mars’s orbit

The mission’s objective is to find liquid water and ice on the Red Planet
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HAINAN — China’s Tianwen-1 planetary science mission has entered the orbit of Mars, in the country’s second interplanetary mission and its first attempt without international partners. The next step will be preparing to send the spacecraft’s lander to the planetary surface, NewScientist reported.

The Tianwen-1 landing is expected to occur this May. The lander will be released when given clearance: it will speed towards Mars’s surface and slow down with the help of a conical heat shield and parachute. A set of rockets will then safely bring the lander to the ground. 

The chosen landing site for the Tianwen-1 lander, Utopia Planitia, is the same region where NASA’s Viking 2 lander alighted in 1976.

If all operations go as planned, the lander will release a solar-powered rover to explore the Red Planet for about 90 Martian days. The rover will be outfitted with cameras, ground-penetrating radar, a magnetic-field detector, a weather station, and an instrument to access the planet’s dust and rocks’ chemical composition. 

The spacecraft’s orbiter is also equipped with technology to investigate Mars from orbit.

Three components of the spacecraft — the lander, rover, and orbiter — will work in conjunction to find pockets of liquid water and ice on Mars. The Tianwen-1 planetary science mission began on July 23, 2020, when it took off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site located in Hainan, China. 

In addition to seeking water and ice, the Tianwen-1 mission will also lay the groundwork for future, more complex missions. One such assignment, slated later this year, involves returning Martian samples to Earth for analysis. 

The Tianwen-1 entry into the Red Planet’s orbit follows the United Arba Emirates’ Hope orbiter by just one day, when the UAE made history as the first Arab nation to go to outer space. The Chinese expedition also precedes the landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover by a week.

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