China’s Mars mission revolves around the Red Planet


The Chinese space agency tends to keep secrets around its missions. Over the past year, it has shown greater openness, providing a live video in the state media about the launch of the Chang’e-4 mission to the moon. If you have a more specific arrival time, we will let you know here.

Tianwen-1 launched from China last July, taking advantage of the period when Mars and Earth stood closest to each other in their travels around the sun. This allows for a relatively short transit between the two worlds.

In order for Mars to catch up, the spacecraft launched its engines several times, correcting its direction to approach the red planet at the right angle. The last engine ignition took place on February 5, and the probe sent back images of the red planet from a distance of about 1.3 million miles.

On Wednesday, the engine will start again, turning most of the spacecraft’s remaining fuel during a braking maneuver. This should significantly slow down and allow the probe to be accepted by Martian gravity. He will orbit at a safe distance, join other Mars reconnaissance robot teams, and prepare for that later surface landing attempt.

The history of spaceflight is full of failed Mars voyages, including a 2011 Chinese mission that never got off Earth’s orbit after a Russian missile failed. And some spaceships stumbled in this final step of preparing for Martian orbit.

For example, in 1999, NASA suffered a Mars Climate Orbiter navigation error – English units were not converted to metrics – and the spacecraft burned in the Martian atmosphere. In 1992, days before arriving on Mars, NASA lost contact with the Mars Observer spacecraft, possibly due to a fuel line cut. After the 1974 Soviet mission, Mars 4 was unable to fire its retro missiles, and the spacecraft sailed from Mars.

Nevertheless, standing in front of the orbit around Mars is nothing like landing there.

The orbiter holds a landing gear and a rover, which make it difficult to reach the surface. China says it will try to land on Mars in May, but has not set a date.

Its target is the Utopia Planitia, a large basin in the northern hemisphere that was likely affected by a meteor and visited by NASA’s Viking 2 landing site in 1976. One of the goals of the Tianwen-1 mission is to better understand the ice in this region that future human colonizers on Mars can use to sustain themselves.

Landing on the red planet is dangerous. Spaceships descend at high speeds, and the thin atmosphere doesn’t help much in slowing down Earth’s journey. Air friction continues to generate extraordinary heat that must be sucked up or dissipated. Several Soviet, NASA and European missions crashed. Only NASA landed untouched several times.

The Chinese spacecraft will spend months around Mars to check the systems and select a landing site that won’t be too traitorous.

If you land in one piece, the rover will need a name. After nominating the Chinese people, a panel of experts selected 10 semi-finals. Among them, according to state media, Hongyi, from the Chinese word for ambition and perseverance; Qilin, the hoof creature of Chinese legend; and Nezha, a young deity who is considered the patron of the rebellious youth.

Ever since China launched its mission to Mars, the Moon and back in July.

The Chang’e-5 mission began in November, collecting lunar samples and then bringing them back to Earth for scientists to study. It was the first new lunar rock since the last lunar mission of the Soviet Union in 1976.

China’s Chang’e-4 mission, which is the first to land on the other side of the Moon, is still operational, and Yutu-2’s rover is still studying the lunar surface more than two years after its launch.

The first robotic probe to arrive on Mars this year was the orbit of Hope, the emerging UAE space agency. He arrived on Tuesday and begins studying the atmosphere of the red planet to help planet scientists understand the weather dynamics of Mars.

The new third visitor to Mars will be Perseverance, NASA’s latest rover. It launched a little later than the other two spacecraft last July, skipping Martian orbit and launching directly to the planet’s surface on 18 February.

The explorer of the robot would be NASA’s fifth rover on Mars and is very similar to Curiosity, which is now exploring Gale Crater. The new rover will carry other scientific tools and will discover the Jezero Crater, a parched lake that scientists say could be a good target for fossilized evidence of extinct Martian microbial life.

The mission is also attempting a new experiment on the red planet: flying a helicopter in Martian atmosphere. NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter will be landed by the rover shortly after landing. He then attempts a number of test flights in air as thin as the upper part of the Earth’s atmosphere, with the aim of demonstrating that Mars can be discovered through the air and on Earth as well.

A little crowded around the red planet.

Currently, six orbiting planets are exploring the planet from space. NASA sent three: the Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005, and MAVEN, which left Earth in 2013.

There are two spacecraft in orbit in Europe. The Mars Express orbit was launched in 2003, and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter was discontinued in 2016 and will be shared with Russia’s space program.

India operates the sixth spacecraft, the Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan, which launched in 2013.

Two U.S. missions are currently operating on the ground. Curiosity has been moving since 2012. It is joined by InSight, which has been studying marsquakes and other internal properties of the red planet since 2018. The third U.S. mission, the Opportunity rover, expired in 2019 when it lost power due to a dust storm.