Ambitious Chinese Mars Mission Includes Orbiter, Rover

Tianwen-1 spacecraft (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In its most ambitious robotic space mission to date, China will launch an orbiter, lander and rover to Mars later this week.

A Long March 5 booster is set to launch the Tianwen-1 mission from the Wenchang spaceport on Thursday, July 23.

Tianwen-1 is the first Mars mission that China has attempted on its own. The Chinese Yinghuo-1 sub-satellite was launched aboard Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission in November 2011. However, the ambitious mission to the martian moon never left Earth orbit.

Tianwen-1’s orbiter, which weighs in at 3,175 kg (7,000 lb), will study the Red Planet with six instruments, including:

  • high-resolution camera (HRC) with a 2-meter resolution
  • medium resolution camera with an 100-meter resolution
  • magnetometer
  • mineral spectrometer
  • subsurface radar
  • ion and neutral particle analyzer.

The solar powered rover, which measures 2 by 1.65 m (6.6 x 5.4 ft) and weighs 240 kg (529 lb), will explore the Utopia Planitia region. The rover’s six instruments include:

  • ground-penetrating radar capable of imaging 100 meters below the surface
  • multi-spectrum camera
  • navigation and topography camera
  • surface compound detector
  • magnetic field detector
  • meteorological measurement instrument.

The rover will be flown aboard a lander that will use retrorockets, a parachute and an airbag to land on the Martian surface.

Tianwen means heavenly questions or questions to heaven. The mission was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.