Credit: CNSA

As China’s Tianwen-1 probe orbits Mars, space officials in that country face daunting challenges in deploying a lander/rover onto the surface of the Red Planet.

“The control process is smooth and successful. [The probe] was captured by Mars’ gravity exactly as expected and entered the orbit,” Cui Xiaofeng, chief engineer of the Mars exploration team of Beijing Aerospace Control Center told China Central Television (CCTV) in an interview.

On Wednesday, with a hefty weight of more than 5 tons, Tianwen-1 braked itself into an elliptical orbit around Mars. The nearly seventh month voyage followed its launch on July 23, 2020. The spacecraft’s closest distance from the Martian surface is roughly 250 miles (400 kilometers).

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Just the beginning

“We’ve achieved a successful result this time, but this is just the beginning,” Wu Yanhua, deputy head of China National Space Administration (CNSA) and also deputy commander of the mission, told CCTV. Still to come is landing and roving Mars. “We’re looking forward to the success of the whole mission,” Wu said.

From Mars orbit, payloads aboard the orbiter, including medium and high resolution cameras and various particle analyzers, will start working and carry out surveys of the planet.

Zhang Kejian, head of the CNSA.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screenshot

Parking orbit

Tianwen-1 will conduct multiple orbital corrections to enter a temporary Mars parking orbit, and also survey potential landing sites in preparation for the mission’s lander/rover deployment in May or June.

Early map indicating China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Zhang Kejian, head of the CNSA as well as chief commander of China’s first Mars exploration mission, said that so far the mission is successful, “but we can’t be self-contented.”

Zhang added: “We must not slack off until the final successful landing on Mars 100 days later.”

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