Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1 successfully enters Mars orbit

Tianwen-1 entered the orbit after almost a seven-month journey, hoping to explore the planet over 90 days.

A Chinese spacecraft has entered Mars’s orbit on a mission to land a rover and collect data on underground water and possible signs of ancient life.

“China’s probe Tianwen-1 successfully entered the orbit around Mars on Wednesday after a nearly seven-month voyage from Earth,” the Xinhua News Agency said.

In May or June this year, the spacecraft will attempt to land a capsule carrying a 240kg rover in a rapid seven-minute descent onto a massive plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars known as Utopia Planitia.

If the landing is successful, the solar-powered rover will explore the Martian surface for 90 days, studying its soil and seeking signs of ancient life, including any sub-surface water and ice using a ground-penetrating radar.

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Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven”, the name of a Chinese poem written two millennia ago, is China’s first independent mission to Mars after a probe co-launched with Russia failed to leave the Earth’s orbit in 2011.

Tianwen-1 will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover on its maiden mission to Mars, Chi Wang, head of the National Space Science Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a research note.

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The probe is one of the three reaching Mars or its orbit this month.

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Amal, launched by the United Arab Emirates, successfully entered the planet’s orbit on Tuesday. It will not make a landing but will orbit Mars, gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.

The two probes join six other orbiting spacecraft above Mars launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and India.

In the United States’ most ambitious Mars mission, the one-tonne Perseverance probe is expected to arrive on February 18. It will immediately attempt a landing in a rocky depression with precipitous cliffs called Jezero Crater.

On the surface, Perseverance will gather rock samples for retrieval by a future mission. Two other NASA rovers – Curiosity and InSight – are currently operating on the planet’s surface.

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Perseverance will also attempt to deploy a small helicopter named Ingenuity in the thin Martian atmosphere.


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