China has successfully launched its first interplanetary mission, Tianwen-1, to Mars, following the launch of the United Arab Emirates’ mission to Mars earlier this week.
The launch marks the beginning of the seven-month journey towards Mars. Once the mission reaches the planet, China will become the second country to land and operate a rover of the Red Planet’s surface.
The interplanetary mission Tianwen-1 consists of a Martian orbiter, lander, and rover. They launched atop the Long March 5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on Hainan Island at 12:40 PM local time (12:40 AM ET) early on July 23. The Long March 5 is a type of vehicle that was previously launched only three times. Within 45 minutes, the spacecraft entered the scheduled orbit.
The probe is expected to reach Mars orbit in February 2021. There, it will spend two months, after which it will land a rover on the surface of the Red Planet to study the geology of the planet, its magnetic and gravitational fields, and examine soil characteristics to find out what’s beneath its surface. The orbiter will map Mars from above, and the lander and rover will study the planet’s surface and the signs of underground water. The lander will serve as a delivery system for the rover.
"Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough," team members wrote in a recent Nature Astronomy paper.
Previously, only the USA successfully landed spacecraft that could examine the surface of Mars. Europe and the Soviet Union tried to land spacecraft on Mars, but failed, so if everything goes well with the Chinese mission, this will make history, and the nation will enter into an elite club of the global space community.
The UAE is the first country to launch an orbiter called Hope to Mars this summer to study the weather on Mars. China followed to explore the planet’s surface, and NASA will be the third to launch a Martian rover called Perseverance with the Mars 2020 mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at the end of July to look for signs of past life.
All three missions are scheduled for this summer as now is the time when the distance between Mars and Earth on their orbits around the Sun is minimal only happens once in two years.