China launched its first independent probe to Mars on Thursday, joining a growing number of countries aiming to lead exploration of Earth’s nearest neighbor.
The probe, named Tianwen-1, was launched from the southern island of Hainan and is expected to reach Mars’ gravitational field next February, according to Chinese media.
If the 5-tonne probe makes a successful landing on the fourth planet from the sun, it is expected to work for at least 90 Mars days ” a little longer than three months on Earth.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
Tianwen-1 ” the name means “questions to heaven” in Mandarin, inspired by an ancient poem by Qu Yuan ” consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. The lander and rover will attempt a soft landing on Mars to study the planet’s surface, atmosphere and magnetic field.
The United Arab Emirates also launched its own Mars probe last Sunday and the spacecraft is en route to the red planet. Nasa plans to launch its Perseverance rover between July 30 and August 15. The ExoMars mission by Europe and Russia, planned for July or August, has been delayed until 2022 because of the coronavirus.
Scientists behind the Chinese mission claimed theirs was the most scientifically comprehensive attempt yet at investigating the Martian environment.
“Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter,” the team of mission scientists wrote in the journal Nature Astronomy last week. “No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough.”
But a spokesman for the mission admitted there were uncertainties ahead.
“The entry, descent and landing process for a soft landing on Mars is full of uncertainties,” Liu Tongjie said. “The probe will have to identify the terrain and obstacles, and land on its own.”
It is the second time China has been involved in sending a probe to Mars. Nine years ago, it cooperated with Russia to send the Yinghuo-1 spacecraft to orbit the planet, but it got stranded in orbit because of a technical failure and was declared lost.
The Soviet Union was the first country to attempt a Mars mission when it launched a spacecraft in 1960 that was destroyed during launch.
In 1971, the Soviets’ Mars 2 orbiter became the first man-made object to reach Mars, although the landing system failed and the lander was lost. Their next attempt days later managed the first successful landing, but the lander worked for only 14.5 seconds.
The United States’ Viking spacecraft of the 1970s achieved the first sustained missions on the planet. Nasa’s Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001 and still in orbit, holds the record for the longest time spent orbiting a planet away from Earth.
More Articles from Inkstone
What is Moutai, the spirit of China?
China’s leader assures business chiefs he’s still committed to reform
China Trends: University rape case controversy, and shock for TV viewer
Can the US and China avoid stumbling into armed conflict?
‘I can do this all day,’ says ‘flying’ visitor to Chinese kung fu attraction
For more on China-focused articles visit inkstonenews.com (www.inkstonenews.com) or subscribe to our newsletter via inkstonenews.com/newsletter for the latest China-related stories.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.