Tianwen-1’s Successful Mars Orbit Insertion Marks China’s First Independent Probe Mission

After UAE’s ‘Hope’ or ‘Alam’, China’s uncrewed Tianwen-1 probe successfully entered orbit of Mars after travelling almost seven months from Earth, hoping to explore the planet for 90 days. Tianwen-1 meaning ‘Questions to Heaven, is taken from name of a Chinese long-form poem written almost two millennia ago by Qu Yuan. The spacecraft will be looking forward to attempt successful landing on Mars too. Tianwen-1 probe is the country’s first independent mission to Mars after the previous co-launched probe with Russia failed withdraw from Earth’s orbit in 2011. This will mark China’s first spacecraft orbiting an extraterrestrial planet, and marks the country’s completion of a major step in the current Mars exploration process, which is designed to orbit, land and rove in single mission, as stated by the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

On 23rd July 2020, Tianwen-1 probe was launched using a Long March-5 rocket, which is China’s largest launch-vehicle, from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site situated at the coast of South-China’s province of Hainan. The spacecraft has been travelling in space for almost 202 days, and carried out 4 orbital correction and deep space maneuver to ensure that it gets captured by Mars’ orbit in the right moment. This robotic probe completed a 15-minute burn braking to get pulled by the planet’s gravity. It has flown approximately 475 million kilometers and was nearly 192 million kilometers away from Earth when it reached Mars orbit. After orbit insertion, the orbiter payloads will conduct surveys of the red planet using cameras and particle analyzers. The aim is to collect ample data on leaking water issue and signs of possible ancient life on the planet.

The spacefaring vehicle will also make multiple corrections to enter planet’s temporary parking orbit to survey potential landing sites in order to land in May or June this year. The spacecraft will be attempting to land a capsule that will contain a 240 kg rover in seven-minute descent onto a wide-spread plain in the planet’s northern hemisphere, known as Utopia Planitia. If the spacecraft lands as planned, a solar-powered rover will be exploring Martian surface for about 90 days, and study its soil and look for signs for ancient life on the planet. The robotic probe will also be using ground-penetrating radar to study any sub-surface water and ice.

The race to Mars in this year includes three participants. Probe is among the three spacecraft entering Mars orbit or landing on planet. Amal – launched by the UAE, successfully entered Mars orbit earlier this week. Hope has no plans to land on Mars, it will only orbit Mars, collecting data on the planet’s atmosphere and climatic conditions. The other two probes, launched by NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), and India to join six other Mars orbiting spacecraft. In addition, most ambitious red planet mission by the US – one-ton Perseverance probe – is expected to arrive on 18th February 2021. This spacecraft will immediately attempt to land in Jezero Crater, which is a rocky depression with steep cliffs. After successful landing, Perseverance will collect rock samples for study of a future mission. Apart from this, two of NASA’s rovers, ‘Curiosity and InSight’ are operating on Mars surface, currently. Perseverance will also make an attempt to deploy helicopter – Ingenuity – in Martian atmosphere.

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