China’s first Mars exploration mission Tianwen-1 revealed full-size models of its lander and rover on Wednesday.
Tianwen-1, which means “Questions for Heaven” in Chinese, consists of an orbiter, lander and rover, aiming to achieve three goals in one mission: orbiting, landing and exploring.
The lander weighs 1,060 kilograms. Though it takes only seven to eight minutes from entering the atmosphere of Mars to landing on the surface of the Red Planet, the lander has to rely on itself because electromagnetic signals are completely shielded during the landing process.
After a soft landing, the 1.85-meter-high rover weighing 240 kilograms is expected to be in operation for about 90 Martian days, or sols, to explore the surface of Mars while communicating with the Earth with the help of the orbiter. The square equipment at the top is the “eye” of the rover, and has a panoramic camera to help the rover avoid obstacles and carry out exploration, as well as a multi-spectral camera to identify mineral components. The rover also has four solar panels, a detection radar, a magnetic field detector and a weather measuring instrument, in order to thoroughly investigate Martian surface composition, material type distribution, geological structure and meteorological environment.
The Chinese government expects to demonstrate the country’s space power by carrying out a successful Mars mission, which will help reduce the gap between China and the US, Russia and Europe in deep space exploration technology, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said in May.
“We have carried out multiple coordinated maneuvers testing flight and control along with the launching site system,” said Tianwen-1 deputy director Zhang Yu in a recent interview with China Central Television. “We tested the rocket system and the probe system, which has confirmed that there is proper interface between different systems and the flight program, and also indicated that we are capable of conducting the first Mars probe of our country.”
The mission is expected to be launched using China’s own Long March-5 Y4 rocket in late July or early August from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan Province, according to China National Space Administration (CNSA). The final launch date depends on weather conditions, the distance between Earth and Mars during a given period, the launch center’s condition, as well as the results of a technical readiness inspection before the launch, CNSA said.
The carrier rocket was vertically transported to the launch area on July 17, and preparation work including assembly and pre-launch tests have been completed on-site, Global Times reported.
This year is ideal for a Mars mission, as Earth and Mars align once every two years, allowing the shortest spacecraft travel time between the planets. Three countries – the United Arab Emirates, the U.S., and China – plan to launch Mars missions in the upcoming month.
The United Arab Emirates has successfully launched the Arab world’s first Mars mission on Sunday, which is the first of three missions scheduled this summer.
NASA, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, plans to launch its Perseverance rover on July 30, CNN reported.
Europe and Russia also planned to send a rover called ExoMars this summer but postponed the launch to 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
China’s first attempt to reach Mars failed in 2012. Its Yinghuo-1 Mars orbiter fell back to Earth after being launched on a Russian spacecraft, South China Morning Post reported.
Spacecrafts from China, the UAE and the US will all arrive on Mars in February 2021.