China National Space Administration recently informed that its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover are speeding toward the Red Planet and preparing to arrive on February 10. Tianwen-1 which translates to “questions to heaven” was launched on a Long March 5 rocket back in July 2020 from Wenchang on Hainan Island. According to CNSA, on January 3, the spacecraft was approximately 130 kilometres from Earth and nearly 8.3 kilometres from Mars.
Now, as all systems are working normally, the spacecraft is expected to enter Mars orbit in February. It will perform a burn of its engines to slow it down enough to be captured by Mars’ gravitational pull. According to China’s CCTV news network, the CNSA has said that Tianwen-1 will be about 190 km away from the Earth when the probe arrives in Mars orbit, after a journey of around 470 million km.
While speaking to the media outlet, Li Zhencai, deputy commander of the Tianwen-1 Mars probe project with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said that the preparations for entering Mars orbit are underway. Li added that the officials plan to complete all the commands and joint exercise with the Beijing Aerospace Control Center before January 24. Further, he added that a court trajectory correction manoeuvre is to be carried out to ensure the spacecraft will be on course for entering Mars orbit.
Tianwen-1 to land on NASA’s Viking 2 lander site
After entering orbit, the Chinese spacecraft will begin to prepared for a landing attempt of the mission’s rover. However, the CNSA has stated that the landing won’t take place until May. If Tianwen-1 successfully lands on the Red Planet, the rover will investigate the surface soil characteristics and potential water-ice distribution with its Subsurface Exploration Radar Instrument. The rover will also analyse the surface material composition and characteristics of the Martian climate and environment on the surface.
Meanwhile, Tianwen-1 will make a landing on Mars around the same time as NASA’s Perseverance rover and the UAE’s Hope orbiter. China has isolated an area stretching from Isidis Planitia across to the big volcano Elysium Mons for the landing where NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.
According to reports, China’s rover will operate for at least 90 Martian days. Tianwen-1 orbiter is expected to provide scientific communication links to the rover while it will carry out the observation on the dedicated Mars area for one Martian year, which is approximately 687 days on the earth.