A March 5 long rocket carrying an orbiter, lander, and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars will launch from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province on July 23, 2020.
NOEL CELIS | AFP | Getty Images
An unscrewed Chinese spaceship landed successfully on the surface of Mars on Saturday, reported the state news agency Xinhua. This made China the second space nation to land on the Red Planet after the USA.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on a site in a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia, “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time,” Xinhua said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated everyone involved in the mission.
“They were brave enough for the challenge, pursued excellence, and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration,” he said. “Your outstanding performance will forever be burned into the memories of the motherland and the people.”
The vehicle left its parked orbit at 1700 GMT on Friday (1:00 a.m., Beijing time on Saturday). The landing module separated from the orbiter three hours later and entered the Martian atmosphere, the official China Space News said.
It was said that the landing process was “nine minutes of terror” when the module slows down and then slowly falls off.
The official landing time was 2318 GMT (0718 Beijing time), Xinhua said, citing the Chinese space agency. It took the rover more than 17 minutes to unfold its solar panels and antenna and send signals to ground controls more than 200 million kilometers away.
The rover, named Zhurong, will now survey the landing pad before leaving its platform to conduct inspections. Named after a mythical Chinese fire god, Zhurong has six scientific instruments, including a high-resolution topography camera.
It will study the soil and atmosphere of the planet. Zhurong will also use a ground penetrating radar to search for signs of ancient life, including underground water and ice.
Tianwen-1 or “Asking Heaven” is China’s first independent mission to Mars, based on a Chinese poem written two millennia ago. A probe launched jointly with Russia in 2011 could not leave Earth orbit.
The five-ton spacecraft took off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan in July last year and was fired by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.
After more than six months of transit, Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet in February, where it has been in orbit ever since.
If Zhurong is used successfully, China will be the first country to orbit, land, and release a rover on its first mission to Mars.
Tianwen-1 was one of three to reach Mars in February. The American rover Perseverance landed successfully on February 18 in a huge depression called Jezero Crater, more than 2,000 km from Utopia Planitia.
Hope – the third spaceship to arrive on Mars in February of this year – is not designed to land. It was launched by the United Arab Emirates and is currently orbiting Mars to collect data on its weather and atmosphere.
The first successful landing was performed by NASA’s Viking 1 in July 1976 and by Viking 2 in September of that year. A Mars probe launched by the former Soviet Union landed in December 1971, but communication was lost seconds after landing.
China has an ambitious space program. It tests reusable spacecraft and also plans to set up a manned lunar research station.
In a comment released on Saturday, Xinhua said China’s “aim is not to compete for leadership in space” but to “reveal the secrets of the universe and contribute to humanity’s peaceful uses of space.”