Credit: Wan, W.X., Wang, C., Li, C.L. et al.

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars spacecraft appears slated for a July 23 launch date (the opening of the launch window).

The Mars probe has been transported to Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. It is set to be launched atop a Long March 5 carrier rocket in the coming days, with arrival at Mars seven months later.

The mission will study the Red Planet with a combination of orbiter and lander/rover.

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Candidate landing site: Utopia Planitia

In a just published Nature Astronomy paper — “China’s first mission to Mars” – details about the mission are outlined, among them:

The Tianwen-1 probe has a mass (including fuel) of about 5 tons.

China’s Mars orbiter, lander, rover effort.
Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

 

 

The orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover, while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year. The orbit during the scientific observation stage is a polar elliptical orbit 165 miles x 746 miles (265 km × 12,000 kilometers).

The Tianwen-1 probe is expected to reach Mars around February 2021 and the scientific observation phase will start in April 2021.

Viking 2 Image of Mars Utopian Plain.
Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

The lander/rover will perform a soft landing on the Martian surface some 2–3 months after arrival of the spacecraft, with a candidate landing site in Utopia Planitia. It is the Martian region where the NASA Viking 2 lander touched down on September 3, 1976.

Scientific instruments

The roughly 530 pound (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover is nearly twice the mass of China’s Yutu lunar rovers, and is expected to be in operation for about 90 Martian days.

China’s Mars orbiter.
Courtesy: James Head

There are 13 scientific payloads in the Tianwen-1 mission in total.

The seven instruments on board the orbiter comprise two cameras, the Mars-Orbiting Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Mineralogy Spectrometer, Mars Magnetometer, Mars Ion and Neutral Particle Analyzer, and Mars Energetic Particle Analyzer.

China’s Mars rover.
Courtesy: James Head

 

The six instruments installed on the rover comprise the Multispectral Camera, Terrain Camera, Mars-Rover Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Surface Composition Detector, Mars Magnetic Field Detector, and Mars Meteorology Monitor.

Comprehensive mission

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to the paper’s authors, “Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough. Scientifically, Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution.”

To read the full Nature Astronomy paper — China’s first mission to Mars – go to:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1148-6

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