China Mars mission: Spaceship arrives on Red Planet to explore surface in search of signs of life

Andrew Griffin
Friday 12 February 2021 15:42
comments
China's Mars Mission Begins As Spacecraft Enters Orbit
Leer en Español

A Chinese spacecraft has arrived at Mars and is preparing to explore its surface, the country has said.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft is one of three missions to the red planet arriving this month. It comes a day after a UAE spaceraft successfully went into orbit around the planet, and ahead of the arrival of Nasa's Perseverance rover.

The Chinese mission is made up of a rover and orbiter in combination. For now, the two will float around the red planet, but in a few months the rover will detach and float down to the surface.

When it does, it hopes to collect information about water under the Martian surface as well as look for signs of ancient alien life on the planet.

Tianwen is the title of an ancient poem, and means "Quest for Heavenly Truth".

The arrival at Mars marks the first time the country has successfully made the journey, after its attempt with Russia in 2011 failed to make it through Earth's orbit.

But the hardest part of the mission will be actually managing to land a rover on the Martian surface, a complex feat that has so far only ever been achieved by America's Nasa.

Landing a spacecraft on Martian soil is notoriously difficult, and China's attempt will involve a parachute, back-firing rockets and airbags. Its proposed landing site is inside the massive, rock-strewn, Utopia Planitia, where the U.S. Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.The solar-powered rover — about the size of a golf cart — is expected to operate for about three months, and the orbiter for two years.

China plans to attempt to send its rover down to the surface in May, where they hope to search for underground water as well as evidence of possible ancient life.

The solar-powered rover weighs 529lb (240kg) and should operate for about three months, while the Tianwen-1 orbiter is expected to last two years.

The spacecraft blasted off from Earth seven months ago on board a Long March-5 carrier rocket from Hainan Island, China.

Last week Tianwen-1 - or the Quest Tor Heavenly Truth - sent back its first photo of Mars, taken 1.4 million miles away from the planet.

The three arrivals at Mars all set off in July, taking advantage of a relatively close alignment between Mars and Earth that is only available every two years.

Additional reporting by agencies

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments