• Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

Chinese state-run media says the nation’s space agency has landed its first spacecraft on Mars


May 15, 2021

Chinese state-run media says the nation’s space agency has landed its first spacecraft on Mars.

Key points:

  • China has become the third nation to land on Mars, and the second to deploy a rover
  • State-run media announced the landing on Saturday morning 
  • Named the Tianwen-1, the spacecraft spent more than six months in transit

The official Xinhua News Agency said on Saturday that the lander, named, had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on a site on the Southern Utopia Plain, “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time,” Xinhua said.

The spacecraft left its parked orbit around 3:00am AEST and entered the Martian atmosphere about three hours later.

Xinhua said the landing process consisted of “nine minutes of terror” as the module decelerated and then slowly descended.

The space craft landed in the southern part of a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia.

The 3,300-kilometre-wide plain is the largest impact crater on Mars. 

The site where the Chinese rover Zhurong landed in relation to all other successful and failed missions.

The lander was carrying a rover that was deployed on the red planet, making China the second nation to deploy one, behind the United States. 

The six-wheel robot called Zhurong marks a major leap in China’s space program, which has managed to launch an orbiter, lander and rover in a single mission. Youtube Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit Source: CCTV

The rover is solar powered and will survey the landing site before departing from its platform to conduct inspections.

It will study the planet’s surface soil and atmosphere.

Zhurong will also look for signs of ancient life, including any sub-surface water and ice, using a ground-penetrating radar.

Named after a mythical Chinese god of fire, Zhurong has six scientific instruments including a high-resolution topography camera.

Space writer Morris Jones told ABC says China’s most recent achievement shows they are a major player in the “space game”.

“It’s one of the most complicated things China has ever done in space flight. And it comes relatively shortly after China launched its first large space station module,’ Mr Jones said. 

“So in between the space station, the Mars landing and the fact that China has recently retrieved samples from the moon via another robot lander, this is a sign that China is now a first-rate space power”. 

““China is one of only three nations to have human space flight capability along with the US and Russia. They’re now also in the space station league and they’re also in the interplanetary exploration league, which is only open to a handful of nations.Youtube Tianwen-1/Zhurong mission explained. Source: CGTN

The 5-tonne spacecraft blasted off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan in July last year, launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.

After more than six months in transit, Tianwen-1 reached the red planet in February, and has been in orbit ever since.

Tianwen-1, or Questions to Heaven, named after a Chinese poem written two millennia ago, is China’s first independent mission to Mars.

A probe co-launched with Russia in 2011 failed to leave the Earth’s orbit.

Tianwen-1 was one of three that reached Mars in February, with US rover Perseverance successfully touching down on February 18 in a huge depression called Jezero Crater, more than 2,000 km away from Utopia Planitia.

Hope — the third spacecraft that arrived at Mars in February this year — is not designed to make a landing. 

Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it is currently orbiting above Mars gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.

The first successful landing ever was made by NASA’s Viking 1 in July 1976 and then by Viking 2 in September that year. 

A Mars probe launched by the former Soviet Union landed in December 1971, but communication was lost seconds after landing.

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