- China successfully launched its inaugural Mars mission, Tianwen-1, early this morning.
- China's ambitious mission is carrying an orbiter, lander, and rover—a first for any Mars mission.
- The spacecraft is expected to reach the Red Planet by February 2021.
China's inaugural Mars mission soared gracefully into orbit early this morning. The spacecraft, nestled atop the powerful Long March 5 rocket, blasted off from China’s Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center on Hainan Island. It will take about seven months for the orbiter, lander, and rover to reach Mars.
If the mission is successful, China will join the U.S. and become just the second country to operate a rover on the Red Planet. (In 1971, the Soviet Union managed to set a lander down on the Martian surface, but it went dark 20 seconds later.)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine took to Twitter to congratulate the team on its successful launch, writing, "The United States, Europe, Russia, India, and soon the UAE will welcome you to Mars to embark on an exciting year of scientific discovery. Safe travels Tianwen-1!"
✨ Hey, let's explore the universe together. Read the coolest space stories, solve mind-bending cosmic mysteries, and get unlimited access to all things Pop Mech—starting now.
An Ambitious Mission
China's three-pronged Mars mission is the first ever to launch an orbiter, lander, and rover all in one. Once the spacecraft arrives at the Red Planet, it will orbit for several months before deploying the lander to its planned landing site at Utopia Planitia. (Coincidentally, the site is close to where NASA's Viking 2 landed in 1976.)
The main task of Tianwen-1 is to perform a global and extensive survey of the entire planet using the orbiter, and to send the rover to surface locations of scientific interests to conduct detailed investigations with high accuracy and resolution, according to a paper published earlier this year in Nature Astronomy by the Tianwen-1 mission's chief scientist.
The orbiter is equipped with two cameras, a magnetometer, the Mars-Orbiting Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Mineralogy Spectrometer, Mars Ion and Neutral Particle Analyzer, and Mars Energetic Particle Analyzer, the researchers write. Once the lander and rover parachute down through Mars's atmosphere and (hopefully) land softly on its surface, the rover will have a busy schedule.
Over the course of its 90-Martian day mission, the nearly 530-pound rover will snap pictures of Mars's surface, monitor its magnetic field, and explore the rocks and minerals around it. The rover has six instruments, including a weather station, two cameras, and a subsurface radar. It's also equipped with a Mars Surface Composition Detector and Mars Magnetic Field Detector.
"Scientifically, Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution," the researchers write.
A Martian Summer
On Sunday, the United Arab Emirates launched its heavily anticipated Hope Probe to Mars. The orbiter will soar above the Martian atmosphere, collecting data about how its gases escape into space and how its different layers interact with each other.
Next week, NASA hopes to launch its own Mars mission, the Perseverance rover, which is just the first leg of a multi-stage sample return mission. Also on board: the Ingenuity rotorcraft, a technology demonstration that will, if all goes according to plan, zip through Mars's skies.
Perseverance and Ingenuity will be shuttled to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. On Wednesday, NASA conducted a flight readiness review in preparation for the July 30 launch. The next critical hurdle, the launch readiness review, will take place on July 27.
"At present, everything is green across the board," Matt Wallace, Mars 2020 deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "Everyone involved with this endeavor, from the spacecraft team to the launch vehicle team to those working the range, are looking forward to seeing Perseverance begin its long-awaited flight to Mars."
You Might Also Like