BEIJING — China claims its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary parking orbit around Mars in expectation of landing a rover on the red planet in the forthcoming months.
The China National Space Administration said the spacecraft executed a maneuver to adjust its orbit early Wednesday morning Beijing time and will remain in the new orbit for about another 3 months before trying to land. Throughout this time, it will be mapping the surface of Mars and utilizing its cameras and other detectors to collect further data, particularly concerning its potential landing site.
That follows the landing of the U.S. Perseverance rover last Thursday near an ancient river delta from Jezero Crater to seek out signs of ancient microscopic life.
A successful bid to property Tianwen-1 will make China only the next nation after the U.S. to put a spacecraft on Mars. China’s solar-powered vehicle, about the size of a golf cart, will gather information on underground water and look for proof that the planet may have once harbored aquatic life.
Tianwen, the title of an early poem, means”Quest for Heavenly Truth.”
In 2011, a Mars-bound Chinese orbiter which was a part of a Russian mission didn’t make it from Earth orbit.
China’s effort will demand a parachute, rocket firings and airbags. Its proposed landing site is an extensive, rock-strewn plain called Utopia Planitia, in which the U.S. Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.
Tianwen-1’s arrival at Mars on Feb. 10 was preceded by an orbiter in the United Arab Emirates. All three of the hottest missions were established in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that happens only once every couple of years.
Tianwen-1 represents the most ambitious mission yet for China’s secretive, military-linked space program that initially put an astronaut in orbit around Earth in 2003 and this past year brought moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored other side of the moon in 2019.
China is also constructing a permanent space station and planning a crewed lunar assignment and a potential permanent research base on the moon, though no dates have yet been suggested.
On Monday, a massive Long March-5B Y2 rocket has been moved into position in the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Website in Hainan state for assembly and testing before it launches the space station’s core module, christened Tianhe. Launch is scheduled for the first half of this year, the first of 11 missions slated over the next two years for the station’s structure.
China is not a participant in the International Space Station, partly at the insistence of the United States.
The space program is a source of tremendous national pride in China and Tianwen-1 has drawn an especially strong following among the public. Tourists flocked to tropical Hainan island to watch the launch, while others visit mock Mars colonies in desert websites with snowy domes, airlocks and spacesuits.