China’s Tianwen-1 probe has successfully entered orbit around Mars after a nearly seven-month voyage from Earth.
- Tianwen-1 has been traveling in space for more than 200 days
- It will now start looking for places to land
- A UAE probe is also in orbit around the Red Planet, with a NASA mission on the way
China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) said the spaceship began decelerating on its approach to the Red Planet on Wednesday evening, Beijing time.
After about 15 minutes, the spacecraft, including an orbiter, a lander and a rover, had slowed enough to be captured by Mars’s gravity and entered an elliptical orbit, with its closest distance from the Martian surface at about 400 kilometres.
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It will take Tianwen-1 about 10 Earth days to complete one full orbit of Mars.
The development marks China’s completion of a key step in its current Mars exploration program, which is designed to complete orbiting, landing and roving in one mission, said the CNSA.
“Entering Mars’s orbit is a challenging task. The key is the probe’s autonomous control. Scientists have pre-set an entry program on the probe,” Wang Chuang, chief designer of Tianwen-1, said.
“When approaching Mars, the probe will finish the orbital entry process by itself. The probe will circle around the planet, which means communication will be difficult once it reaches Mars’s far side.
“Even if we sent a signal from Earth, it wouldn’t reach the probe in time. So, the probe will need to solve most major malfunctions if there are any that arise according to these pre-set programs.”
The orbiter’s cameras and particle analysers will now carry out surveys of the planet.
Tianwen-1 will also survey potential landing sites in preparation for landing in May or June.
Three spacecraft from NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates took off on journeys to the Red Planet last year.
The UAE’s first mission to Mars entered orbit after a seven-month and 494-million-kilometre journey yesterday.
LoadingNASA’s mission aims to put a new rover called Perseverance on the planet before the end of the month.
It will be the United States’ 10th successful attempt to put a robot on Mars since 1975, if it survives the landing.
Millions of kilometres from Earth
Tianwen-1 the name means Heavenly Questions is China’s second attempt to send a mission to the Red Planet.
It was launched via a Long March-5 rocket, China’s largest launch vehicle, from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern China’s island province of Hainan on July 23 last year.
China launches its unmanned probe to Mars in its first independent mission to another planet.
Tianwen-1 has been traveling in space for 202 days. It has carried out four orbital corrections and a deep-space manoeuvre.
It has flown 475 million kilometres and was 192 million kilometres from Earth when it reached Mars’ orbit.
A steerable radio telescope with a 70-metre-diameter antenna in the Wuqing District of northern China’s Tianjin City is a key facility receiving scientific data sent back by the Mars probe.
But information takes more than 10 minutes to travel back to Earth.