China launched its first solo mission to Mars called Tianwen-1 on Thursday, one day after it unveiled full-size models of its lander and rover.
Consisting of an orbiter, lander and rover, Tianwen-1 was launched on the Long March-5 Y4 rocket and roared off from China’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island at 12:41 p.m. local time, Xinhua news tweeted minutes later.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) later said it was a successful launch and that the Tianwen-1 rover “had been successfully placed on the planned orbit to Mars.”
Equipped with high and medium-resolution cameras, radar, a mineralogy spectrometer, a magnetometer and two charged particle detectors, the orbiter will map and photograph Mars in the upcoming months.
BBC reported that Tianwen-1 will use a combination of a capsule, parachute and retro-rocket to slow down its entry speed and stop right at the surface. The targeted touchdown location will be a flat plain within the Utopia impact basin just north of Mars’ equator, the same general region where NASA’s Viking 1 lander touched down in 1976.
After a soft landing, the 240-kilogram six-wheel rover will traverse the Martian surface and collect data on soil and rock composition. Equipped with a panoramic camera, four solar panels, a detection radar, a magnetic field detector and a weather measuring instrument, the rover will thoroughly investigate Martian surface composition, material type distribution, geological structure and meteorological environment, as well as transfer data to the Earth with the help of the orbiter.
The launch comes days after the United Arab Emirates successfully launched the Arab world’s first Mars mission called Hope from Japan on Sunday, which was the first of three missions scheduled this summer as Earth and Mars align this year, allowing the shortest spacecraft travel time between the Earth and Mars. The next launch will be NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover from Cape Canaveral scheduled on July 30.
So far only the US has landed and operated a rover on Mars. If China’s mission is successful, it will elevate the nation’s place in the global space community.
“The Tianwen-1 mission is a landmark project in the process of building China’s aerospace power,” CASC Chairman Wu Yansheng said. “It’s a milestone project for China’s aerospace to go further and deeper into space.”
In fact, China has put a big emphasis on space exploration over the past few years.
“(You should) strive to strengthen and expand our space exploration and make our country a great space power as soon as possible,” President Xi Jinping urged the industry in April.
Though China’s first attempt to reach Mars failed in 2012 and the second launch of the Long March 5 rocket failed in 2017, China has also seen some successes. China landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon last year, the world’s first landing on the so-called dark side. A month ago, China launched the final satellite for its global positioning system called Beidou, bringing the project to completion.