China’s first mission to Mars: Tianwen-1 to enter the Red Planet’s orbit next month

Tianwen-1, China’s first-ever Mars probe launched on July 23, 2020, has flown 165 days into space covering more than 400 million km and is anticipated to enter Mars orbit likely next month, according to China National Space Administration (CNSA). The spacecraft on January 3, 2021, was about 130 million km from the Earth and around 8.3 million km from Mars, functioning stably.

The Tianwen-1 is scheduled to slow down before it makes its entry into Mars orbit and finally lands on the Red Planet. The Tianwen-1 weighs 5,000 kilograms, consisting of a lander, an orbiter weighing 3,175 kilograms, and a rover weighing 240 kilograms. Apart from taking a number of selfies, the Tianwen-1 has also captured an image that shows both the Earth and the Moon.

The mission of the Tianwen-1 is to orbit, land, and rove around Mars all at once. After entering Mars’ orbit, Tianwen-1 will survey for potential landing sites on the planet using a high-resolution camera for two to three months and will likely land on Mars in the month of May 2021. According to the CNSA, the Tianwen-1’s most challenging part of the mission will be the soft landing, which is an autonomous process and will last seven to eight minutes. The spaceship will land using its aerodynamic shape, parachute, and retrorocket to decelerate and buffer legs to touch down.

The rover will be released after the Tianwen-1 has successfully landed on Mars. The rover has an expected lifespan of 90 Martian days, which is around three months on Earth, and will carry out the conduction of scientific exploration on the planet.

The orbiter of the Tianwen-1 has been designed with a life of one Martian year which is about 687 days on Earth and it will conduct its own scientific exploration and detection while also relaying communications for the rover.

The name of the Mars mission, ‘Tianwen’ means ‘Heavenly questions’ that comes from a poem with the same name written by Qu Yuan from 340 -278 BC. The long poem is a series of questions that starts with how the universe was created. The name seems very fitting for the mission which has multiple missions such as finding evidence of current and past life on the Red Planet, producing Martian surface maps, examining the Martian soil composition, water ice distribution, and its atmosphere to name a few.

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