China just launched a rover and orbiter to Mars
Merely days after the UAE, China has also started its journey to Mars. The country's space agency has launched an orbiter as well as a lander-rover combination to the Red Planet in hopes of becoming the first nation in the world to deliver all three elements through a single mission. Here is all you need to know about it.
Officially dubbed Tianwen-1, or Questions to Heaven, the interplanetary mission launched a few hours ago on top of a Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket. The vehicle lifted off from the Wenchang spaceport on the Hainan Island and is now on its way to Mars. Notably, this is the country's first-ever attempt to launch a full-blown lander/rover and orbiter mission to the Red Planet.
If all goes according to the plan, Tianwen-1 will enter the Martian orbit sometime around February 2021. From there, the China National Space Administration will opt for a wait-and-see strategy to examine the atmospheric condition on Mars and determine the right opportunity for launch. It is estimated that the lander/rover combination will have to wait 2-3 months in orbit before attempting the perilous landing.
After descending through the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than that of Earth, the lander will settle on a large flat plain within the Utopia impact basin located on the planet's Northern Hemisphere. Then, the six-wheeled rover that weighs 240kg and is powered by solar panels will roll down and start surveying the surrounding region in detail with six different instruments.
Out of the six instruments, one, a Terrain Camera, will take pictures of Mars and help with remote navigation. Meanwhile, the other five, including a Subsurface Exploration Radar, Surface Composition Detector, Magnetic Field Detector, will study Martian geology by looking at things like the composition/structure of rocks at and under the surface and the possible presence of water-ice. The lander, meanwhile, will remain dormant.
As the rover works on the ground, the orbiter will settle on a polar elliptical orbit that will take the craft as close to the Martian surface as 265km and as far away as 12,000km. Then, using these distances, it will deploy a suite of seven instruments, including a Magnetometer and Energetic Particle Analyzer, to study the atmosphere/ionosphere and surface of the planet.
Now that China has launched the mission, Americans are also desperate to send their hi-tech 'Perseverance' rover on the journey to the Red Planet. NASA originally planned to launch Perseverance on July 17 but recent delays have prompted the space agency to push forward the launch to "no earlier than July 30". This mission will look for signs of ancient life on the planet.