China on Mars: Tianwen-1 Lands Successfully on Red Planet

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An uncrewed Chinese spacecraft successfully landed on the surface of Mars on Saturday, state news agency Xinhua reported, making China the second one space-faring nation after the USA to land on the Red Planet.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on a site on a huge plain referred to as Utopia Planitia, “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time,” Xinhua said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a message of congratulations to the entire people involved in the mission.

“You were courageous enough for the challenge, pursued excellence and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration,” he said. “Your outstanding achievement will endlessly be etched in the memories of the motherland and the people.”

The craft left its parked orbit at approximately 1700 GMT Friday (0100 Beijing time Saturday). The touchdown module separated from the orbiter three hours later and entered the Martian atmosphere, the official China Space News said.

It said the touchdown process consisted of “nine minutes of terrorism” as the module decelerates and then slowly descends.

The official touchdown time was once 2318 GMT (0718 Beijing time), Xinhua said, citing the China National Space Administration. The rover took more than 17 minutes to unfold its solar panels and antenna and send signals to ground controllers more than 320 million kilometres absent.

The rover, named Zhurong, will now survey the touchdown site before departing from its platform to conduct inspections. Named after a mythical Chinese god of fire, Zhurong has six scientific instruments including a high-resolution topography camera.

It’s going to study the planet’s surface earth and atmosphere. Zhurong will also look for signs of ancient life, including any sub-surface water and ice, the usage of a ground-penetrating radar.

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

The five-tonne spacecraft blasted off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan in July final year, launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.

After more than six months in transit, Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet in February where it had been in orbit since.

Whether Zhurong is successfully deployed, China will be the first country to orbit, land and release a rover in its maiden mission to Mars.

Tianwen-1 was once one of three that reached Mars in February, with U.S. rover Perseverance successfully touching down on Feb. 18 in a immense depression called Jezero Crater, more than 2,000 km absent from Utopia Planitia.

Hope – the third spacecraft that arrived at Mars in February this year – isn’t designed to make a touchdown. Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it is currently orbiting above Mars gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.

The first successful touchdown ever was once made by NASA’s Viking 1 in July 1976 and then by Viking 2 in September that year. A Mars probe launched by the former Soviet Union landed in December 1971, but communication was once missing seconds after touchdown.

China is pursuing an ambitious space programme. It is testing reusable spacecraft and could also be planning to set up manned lunar research station.

In a remark published on Saturday, Xinhua said China was once “not having a look to compete for leadership in space” but was once dedicated to “unveiling the secrets of the universe and contributing to humanity’s peaceable use of space.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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