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China’s First Mars Mission: Tianwen-1 Enters Orbit Around Mars

China’s Tianwen-1 mission is the second of the three new visitors to Mars this month. On Feburary 9th, the Emirati Hope Orbiter of the Arab country arrived at Mars, followed by China’s Tianwen-1 which arrived on Feburary 10th, and soon NASA’s Perseverance rover will be arriving on the 18th of Feburary. 

This Wednesday, China’s Tianwen-1 began orbiting the red planet, according to the country’s media reports. With that, China successfully completed it’s journey to another planet in our solar system.

Tianwen-1 was launched from Earth last July, taking advantage of the period where Mars and Earth were closest to each other during their orbit around the sun, allowing shorter journeys between the two planets.

In order to catch up with Mars, Tianwen-1 fired several engines to make sure to approach Mars at a correct angle. After the most recent engine firing on the 5th of Feburary, the probe was able to send pictures of the red planet back to Earth from around 1.3 million miles.

On Wednesday at 7:52 p.m. in Beijing (6:52 a.m. Eastern time), the engine lit up for another 15 minutes consuming a considerable amount of the spacecraft’s remaining fuel in a braking maneuver. This slowed down the probe, allowing it to be captured by the Martian gravity into an elliptical orbit.

However, while the arrival at Mars was a turning point for China’s accomplishments in space exploration, a bigger challenge awaits the Tianwen-1 mission.

The spacecraft is planned to attempt landing on the surface of Mars as early as May of 2021, although specific dates of the landing has not yet been declared. 

It’s destination is Utopia Planitia, a large basin in the Northern Hemisphere that most likely was once effected by a meteor. This place was visited by NASA’S Viking 2 lander in 1976.

One goal of the Tianwen-1 mission is to explore and better understand the distribution of ice in the planet which could be used by future human colonists on Mars to have a sustainable life.

Landing on Mars is not an easy job. Spacecraft descends at a high speed while the red planet’s thin atmosphere does little to help slow down the landing. Air friction generates extreme heat that must be dissolved. Only NASA has been able to land undamaged on Mars for more than once.

Tianwen-1 will spend a couple of months orbiting Mars to check systems and look for a safe and appropriate landing spot.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/10/science/china-mars-mission.html
Image Source: CNSA

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