A Long March-5 Y4 rocket departs from the Wenchang spacecraft launch site on the coast of southern China’s island province of Hainan.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Mars mission Tianwen-1 is now en route for a targeted landing in May 2021, reportedly within the southern part of the Utopia Planitia – a relatively flat area selected for a safe touchdown spot and for scientific payoff.

The Mars mission is an all-in-one attempt to orbit the Red Planet, dispatch a lander that will then release a six-wheel solar-powered rover.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Seven-month sojourn

A Long March-5 Y4 rocket, China’s largest launch vehicle, lofted the spacecraft with a mass of about 5 tons on July 23 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern China’s island province of Hainan at 12:41 p.m. (Beijing Time).

Outbound for Mars. Image of the release of China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

About 36 minutes later, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft was sent into the Earth-Mars transfer orbit, embarking on a nearly seven-month sojourn to the Red Planet, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The craft is expected to enter the orbit of Mars around February 2021. Afterwards, it will spend two to three months surveying select landing sites using a high-resolution camera to prepare for the landing in May.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Orbiter, rover

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that, after the landing, the rover will be released to conduct scientific exploration with an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth), and the orbiter, with a design life of one Martian year (about 687 days on Earth), will relay communications for the rover while conducting its own scientific tasks.

Chinese space engineers and scientists have chosen a relatively flat region in the southern part of the Utopia Planitia, a large plain, as the potential landing zone. Earlier research suggests that this region may be an underground, water ice-rich zone. This possible site might be at the edge of an ancient ocean or lake in the early history of Mars.

“The reason we selected this place is that it has both the conditions for a safe landing and scientific research value. The place has not been investigated by other countries, so the scientific data can be shared with other countries to enrich the world’s understanding of Mars,” Geng Yan, an official at the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the CNSA, reports Xinhua.

In a post-launch press conference, Liu Tongjie, spotlighted the southern part of the Utopia Planitia as the Tianwen-1 landing zone.


Zhang Xueyu, commander of launching site headquarters of the Mars probe mission, declared the success of the launch mission. “As the information from the Aerospace Flight Control Center indicates, the Long March-5 Y4 rocket is flying normally. The Mars probe has accurately entered the orbit. Now I declare a complete success of the launch mission of China’s first Mars probe,” he said.

China’s CCTV noted the remarks of He Rongwei, chief commander of the Mars probe mission from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

“The rocket performs very well and targets accurately, which has sent the Mars probe into the Earth-Mars transfer orbit precisely,” He said. “It should be said that our first Mars probe has a perfect start.”

Yuanwang-6 tracking ship.
Credit: PLAN


Tracking ships

Meanwhile, three space tracking ships of China’s Yuanwang fleet completed maritime monitoring of the country’s first Mars probe launch in the Pacific Ocean Thursday.

Xinhua reports that about six minutes after the liftoff, the Yuanwang-6 tracking ship detected and locked onto its targets, and carried out measuring of the rocket, and control and monitoring of the Mars spacecraft. The other two tracking ships, Yuanwang-5 and Yuanwang-7, then took turns to complete their missions.

The monitoring process lasted nearly 30 minutes.

As scheduled, Xinhua reports, the Yuanwang-5 and Yuanwang-7 tracking ships will return to China, while Yuanwang-6 will sail to its next mission area for satellite monitoring.

Go to these China Central Television (CCTV) videos that detail the launch and mission of Tianwen-1:



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