A few hours after Espoir, the United Arab Emirates probe, Tianwen-1, its Chinese competitor, placed in orbit around Mars yesterday Wednesday. This is a first for the country, achieved almost seven months after its launch in July. The operation is an important step towards the main objective of this mission: to land a wheeled unmanned robot on the red planet within three or four months.
Two probes around Mars
“The braking (of the sensor) was successful” and “Its launching into Martian orbit is a success”, said the Chinese Space Agency (CNSA), in a statement. Tianwen-1 was launched on July 23 from the tropical island of Hainan, in southern China, during a firing window to reduce the distance of the Earth-Mars journey.
The United Arab Emirates and the United States had also taken advantage of this period to launch their own probes towards the red planet, a few days apart.
The Emirati, named “Al-Amal” (“Hope” in French or “Hope” in English) placed in Martian orbit on Tuesday. As for ” Perseverance “, the remote-controlled robot of the American space agency (Nasa), it is due to land on Mars next week.
Since its launch, the Chinese probe has “traveled a distance of about 475 million kilometers and is about 192 million kilometers from Earth,” said CNSA.
Next “more complex” phases
The mission is named Tianwen-1 (“Questions to Heaven-1”) in homage to a poem from ancient China that deals with astronomy. The probe took its first photo of Mars last week: a black and white snapshot that showed canyons, a crater and a plain of the Red Planet.
Tianwen-1 is in fact made up of three elements: an orbiter (which will still revolve around the star), a lander (which should land on Mars) and a remote-controlled robot.
Weighing more than 200 kilos, the latter will have to conduct analyzes of the soil, the atmosphere, take photos or even contribute to the mapping of the red planet. “The landing on Mars is scheduled between May and June 2021,” said the CNSA.
Unlike Wednesday’s orbit placement, the following stages of the mission “will be much more demanding,” said Chen Lan, analyst at GoTaikonauts.com, specializing in the Chinese space program. “Procedures and operations are more complex, as the atmosphere and surface of Mars are still very little known. Especially for the Chinese, ”he emphasizes.
China had previously tried to ship a probe to Mars in 2011 during a joint mission with Russia. But the attempt had collapsed and Beijing then decided to continue the adventure alone.
China aims (again) for a world first
Ambitious, the Chinese hope to do in this first independent attempt all that the Americans have achieved in several Martian missions since the 1960s. That is to say, place a probe in orbit, land a lander, then bring one out. remote-controlled robot. Carrying out these three operations during an inaugural mission to Mars would be a world first.
China is investing billions of euros in its space program, to catch up with Europeans, Russians and Americans. The Asian giant sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. China struck a blow in early 2019 by landing a machine on the far side of the moon – a world first.
It also launches countless satellites, on its own behalf or that of other countries. It has also just completed in 2020 the constellation of its Beidou navigation system, rival of the American GPS.
Finally, the Chinese plan to assemble a large space station, a priori by 2022, and to send men to the Moon by 2030.