With Tianwen-1 China aims orbiting, landing, roving on Mars in one mission

An artist's illustration of China's first Mars rover Tianwen-1 on the Red Planet. (CNSA)
As the flurry of missions to Mars continue, China is all set to launch its first spacecraft to the Red Planet. Dubbed Tianwen-1, the launch is likely to take place on July 23 as Mars comes close to Earth in its orbit. 

In one of the most ambitious space explorations, China aims to achieve orbiting, landing and roving on the Red Planet in a single mission. According to Global Times, China's Mars orbiter will carry seven scientific payloads, while the rover will have six instruments to explore the Red  Planet. 

Approved by Chinese authorities in January 2016, Tianwen translates to "questions about the heavens," and has been adapted from ancient Chinese verse by poet Qu Yuan. "In 'Tianwen,' Qu Yuan raised a series of questions in verse involving the sky, stars, natural phenomena, myths and the real world, showing his doubts about some traditional concepts and the spirit of seeking the truth," Xinhua reported.  

The Mars probe will travel as far as 400 million kilometers into deep space. (Source: CNSA)

According to a paper published in the Nature Astronomy, The Tianwen-1 orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year. The orbiter will map the planet's morphology (formation) and geological structures using the Mars-Orbiting Subsurface Exploration Radar instrument. It will also observe the soil characteristics and water-ice distribution. 

Meanwhile, the rover which will land in Utopia Planitia basin is expected to be in operation for 90 Marian days. It will observe the surface soil characteristics and analyse the surface material composition with reference to the planet's climate and environment. The Utopia Planitia basin holds significance as it was also the landing site for NASA’s Viking Lander 2 in 1976. Images sent back by the probe showed a thin coating of water ice on the rocks and soil.

The Mars probe will travel as far as 400 million kilometers into deep space, and the Earth-Mars transfer flight will take almost seven months. The spacecraft will arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. 

The orbiter will map the planet's morphology (formation) and geological structures. (Source: CNSA)

Beijing is using it’s homegrown Long March-5 rocket, a heavy-lift booster to launch the Mars mission.  The heavy, cryogenic liquid launch vehicle has been developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. It stands 184 feet in height and is capable of carrying payloads of up to 25,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit and 14,000 kg to a higher geostationary transfer orbit. After Mars, China aims to use the rocket to launch it's Lunar Space Station and Chang's Moon sample return mission.  

Meanwhile, China is also building a 70-meter reflector antenna for the Mars exploration mission in Wuqing district, Tianjin, Global Times reported. As a key equipment for receiving the data from the Mars exploration, the high-performance antenna is 72 meters high and weighs 2,700 tons. Composed of 1,328 high-precision panels, it is about the size of nine basketball courts.

China's heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket has been used for Lunar mission. (Source: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)

The equipment is expected to receive data from Mars by October this year.

The new launch comes days after UAE became the latest country to send a probe to our distant neighbour. The Hope Probe aims to provide the first-ever planet-wide, 24x7 picture of Mars’ atmospheric dynamics and weather. The Chinese mission is to be followed by NASA’s Perseverance Rover mission likely to be launched on July 30 to study the presence of ancient microbial life on Martian surface. 

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