Chinese astronautics recorded another great success in its relatively short history! Earlier today, the automatic interplanetary station “Tianwen-1” started its main engine for 15 minutes in order to reduce the speed of the spacecraft, which officially entered into orbit minutes later and became an artificial satellite of Mars.
Thus, China is now the sixth space power to reach the Red Planet through spacecraft after the United States, the Soviet Union, the European Space Agency (ESA), India, and the UAE (who succeeded with the same task last night).
Tianwen-1 successfully enters into orbit
Unlike yesterday’s arrival of the Emirates mission Hope, today’s event was not covered by the Chinese media in real-time. China is well known for its privacy practices, which unfortunately deprive us of the pleasure of witnessing such amazing moments live. Nevertheless, what’s important is the success of the mission.
Tianwen-1 is believed to be in primary Martian orbit with parameters of 400 to 180,000 kilometers from the surface. In the coming days and weeks, the automatic station will adjust its orbit to prepare for the next big event – landing. The rover’s landing section is expected to reach the surface on Mars in May or June, while the orbital section will continue to map the Martian surface from a height of 265 kilometers.
Scientific instruments of the mission
To get a better idea of the purposes of the Chinese Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, we have prepared a full list of the scientific instruments on board the spacecraft.
The instruments onboard the Tianwen-1 orbital compartment are:
• MRC – Medium resolution photo camera – 100 m / pixel from a 400-kilometer working orbit
• HRC – High-resolution photo camera – 2 m / pixel from a 400-kilometer working orbit
• MM – Martian magnetometer
• MMS – Spectrometer for studying the mineral composition
• OSR – Radar to study the structure of the Martian crust
• MINPA – Detector for ions and neutral particles
The instruments onboard the rover are:
• GPR – a powerful radar that will study the underground characteristics of Mars to a depth of 100 meters
• MSMFD – a device that will study the properties of the planet’s magnetic field
• MMMI – meteorological station
• MSCD – a device for studying the chemical composition of the soil
• MSC – multispectral camera
• NTC – topographic camera
Tianwen-1’s orbital compartment will continue operating in orbit once the rover reaches the surface (hopefully). Its primary goal will be to study the high atmosphere of the planet and also the surface. Honestly, I already can’t wait for the first high-resolution images to be sent back to Earth.
The rover will land in the Utopia Plain, the same area where the US Viking 2 mission landed in 1976. It shows how conservative China is in ensuring the success of its mission. Instead of choosing a completely new location that would have been, in my opinion, a bigger success, they selected an area that has already been explored to a certain extent and there is enough information to increase the chances of a good soft landing. This is understandable, of course, given the nature of the mission and how difficult it is to land on Mars.
But until then, a few more months will pass. For now, we can focus our attention on the third major event for Martian exploration this month – the landing of the US giant rover “Perseverance”, scheduled for February 18. Unlike UAE’s Hope and China’s Tianwen-1, NASA’s spacecraft will not lock into orbit but directly send the rover to the surface.
We can’t help but admit which of the three missions is the most anticipated and which will be recorded as the greatest success if everything goes according to plan. And yet, we should appreciate the efforts and successes of UAE and China that will aid the new wave of exploration of Mars in search of ancient traces of life.
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• Amos, J. (2021, February 10). China Mars mission: Tianwen-1 Spacecraft enters into orbit.
• Jones, A. (2021, February 10). China’s Tianwen-1 enters orbit around Mars.
• Wall, M. (2021, February 10). China’s first Mars mission, Tianwen-1, successfully enters orbit around red planet.