China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered orbit around Mars, becoming the second in two days to perform the feat following the arrival of the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter on Tuesday.
Tianwen-1, translated as “Questions to Heaven,” is notable for its ambitious three-part payload comprising an orbiter, lander, and rover, marking the first time for a space agency to send three such craft to Mars at the same time.
The orbiter will use its scientific instruments to learn more about Mars’ atmosphere and climate, while also mapping the planet’s surface. The lander will attempt to deliver the rover to the planet’s Utopia Planitia, an expansive rock-strewn plain. There it will study the Martian landscape for evidence of both current and past life. Tianwen-1 has already sent back some goodies, last week beaming an image to Earth on its approach to Mars from a distance of around a million miles.
Commenting on Wednesday’s arrival at Mars seven months after Tianwen-1 blasted off from Earth aboard a Long March-5 rocket, Zhang Kejian, director of the China National Space Administration, said: “Exploring the vast universe is the common dream of all mankind. We will cooperate sincerely and go hand in hand with countries all over the world to make mankind’s exploration of space go further.”
China now stands proudly alongside the UAE, the U.S., Europe, India, and the former Soviet Union as one of only a handful of nations that have made it all the way to Mars.
The Asian giant is clearly on a roll with its expanding space program. This is its first fully homegrown mission to Mars and follows a recent successful moon landing that saw it transport a haul of lunar rocks to Earth.
With the UAE and China having successfully reached the red planet, all eyes are now on NASA’s Perseverance mission, which is set to arrive on February 18. The team is aiming to land its rover on the Martian surface at the start of an ambitious expedition aimed at providing scientists with more information about the fourth rock from the sun.
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