China has launched the Tianwen 1 mission spacecraft to Mars, which consists of an orbiter, a landing platform and a rover. In mid-February 2021, the spacecraft will enter orbit around Mars, and at the end of April, the landing platform with the rover will separate and begin landing. If the landing goes according to plan, China will become the second country after the United States to conduct a scientific mission on the surface of Mars. The launch was broadcast on YouTube.
China already has the successful exploration of the surface of other space bodies: it has two successful missions of the Chang’e-3 and Chang’e-4 lunar rovers. Tianwen 1 is based in part on lunar landings and borrows proven technology from these missions. However, landing on Mars is significantly different from landing on the Moon, as this planet has an atmosphere. In addition, the Tianwen-1 mission uses an unusual process, in which the vehicles first slow down and go into orbit around Mars, and only after that they begin to land. This process has already been used in the American missions Viking 1 and Viking 2, but modern rovers usually use direct entry into the atmosphere at the end of the flight.
“Tianwen-1” consists of an orbiter and a landing platform with a rover attached to it. The orbiter will survey Mars with two cameras with a resolution of up to two meters, search for ice deposits under the surface, analyze the composition of the soil with a spectrometer and perform other scientific tasks, as well as relay signals between the Earth and spacecraft on the planet’s surface.
The vehicles were launched into space by a heavy-class rocket “Chang Zheng-5 or CZ 5“. It was launched from the Wenchang Cosmodrome on Hainan Island on July 23. After launch, the spacecraft will first enter a stable near-earth orbit, and then the second stage of the rocket will launch them into the orbit of the flight to Mars. On February 11 next year, the spacecraft will enter orbit around Mars, and on April 23, a landing platform with a rover will land in the Utopia Plain in the northern hemisphere of the planet. Soon after that, the rover will leave the platform and go to study the surface.
The nominal duration of the ground mission is 90 Sol (Martian days). It is worth noting that many space missions actually ran much longer than was planned in advance. For example, the American rover Opportunity also had a planned mission duration of 90 sols, but in fact operated more than five thousand sols, starting in 2004 and ending in 2018.
If the landing platform and rover can not only land but also begin their work, China will become the second country after the United States to achieve this. The formally successful soft landing on Mars, the first in history, belongs to the USSR with the Mars-3 mission, but after landing, this device began transmitting telemetry, which was interrupted after 14.5 seconds and became the last signal received from the device.
A few days ago, the first Arab interplanetary station Al Amal went to Mars, and a few days after the Chinese rover, the American Perseverance will be launched. Its design is based on the active Mars rover Curiosity, but Perseverance is notable for two reasons. Firstly, it will collect soil samples, which will then be taken by the next American mission and sent to Earth for the first time in history, and secondly, together with the rover, the first extraterrestrial helicopter will go to Mars, which will fly and look for the most interesting from the point of view of the potential scientific value of the research site.