China launches ambitious Tianwen-1 Mars rover mission

Baku, July 23, AZERTAC

China`s first fully homegrown Mars mission is on its way to the Red Planet, according to Space.

The Tianwen-1 mission launched atop a Long March 5 rocket from Hainan Island's Wenchang Satellite Launch Center this morning on July 23 at 12:41 a.m.

Tianwen-1 consists of an orbiter and a lander/rover duo, a combination of craft that had never before launched together toward the Red Planet. The ambition of Tianwen-1 is especially striking given that it's China's first stab at a full-on Mars mission.

If all goes according to plan, Tianwen-1 will arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. The lander/rover pair will touch down on the Martian surface two to three months later somewhere within Utopia Planitia, a large plain in the planet's Northern Hemisphere that also welcomed NASA's Viking 2 lander in 1976.

The lander apparently will not do any substantive science work, serving as a delivery system for the rover. That wheeled explorer, by the way, tips the scales at about 530 lbs. (240 kilograms), making it twice as heavy as China's line of moon-exploring Yutu rovers.

Overall, Tianwen-1 aims to take Mars' measure in a variety of ways.

"Specifically, the scientific objectives of Tianwen-1 include: (1) to map the morphology and geological structure, (2) to investigate the surface soil characteristics and water-ice distribution, (3) to analyze the surface material composition, (4) to measure the ionosphere and the characteristics of the Martian climate and environment at the surface, and (5) to perceive the physical fields (electromagnetic, gravitational) and internal structure of Mars," mission team members wrote in the Nature Astronomy paper.

The paper also explained the mission's name: Tianwen means "questions to heaven," and it was taken from the title of a poem by Qu Yuan, who lived from about 340 to 278 BCE.

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