Successful bid to land Tianwen-1 would make China the second country after the United States to place a spacecraft on Mars

China says its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary parking orbit around Mars in anticipation of landing a rover on the Red Planet in the coming months.

China’s National Space Administration said the spacecraft performed a maneuver to adjust its orbit on Wednesday morning Beijing time and would stay in the new orbit for about three months before attempting to land. During this time, it will map the surface of Mars and use its cameras and other sensors to collect additional data, particularly at its potential landing site.

Read also | China’s Tianwen-1 probe successfully enters Mars orbit

This follows the landing of the US rover Perseverance last Thursday near a former river delta in Jezero Crater to look for signs of ancient microscopic life.

A successful bid to land Tianwen-1 would make China the second country after the United States to place a spacecraft on Mars. China’s solar-powered vehicle, the size of a golf cart, will collect data on groundwater and search for evidence that the planet may have been home to microscopic life.

Tianwen, the title of an ancient poem, means “Quest for Heavenly Truth.” Landing a spaceship on Mars is notoriously tricky. A dozen orbiters missed the mark. In 2011, a Chinese orbiter bound for Mars, part of a Russian mission, did not leave Earth orbit.

China’s attempt will involve a parachute, rocket fire and airbags. Its proposed landing site is a vast rocky plain called Utopia Planitia, where the American Viking 2 lander landed in 1976.

The arrival of Tianwen-1 on Mars on February 10 was preceded by that of an orbiter from the United Arab Emirates. The last three missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that only occurs once every two years.

Tianwen-1 represents the most ambitious mission to date for China’s secret and military space program which put an astronaut into orbit around Earth in 2003 and last year brought moon rocks to Earth for the first time. times since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the unexplored other side of the Moon in 2019.

China is also building a permanent space station and planning a manned lunar mission and a possible permanent moon research base, although no date has yet been proposed.

The program is a source of enormous national pride and Tianwen-1 has attracted a particularly strong audience. Tourists flocked to the tropical island of Hainan to watch the launch, while others visit mock Mars colonies in desert sites with white domes, airlocks and space suits.

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