China Launches Tianwen-1 Mission to Mars

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A Long March 5 booster roared off the launch pad from Wenchang on Thursday morning, sending an orbiter, lander and rover to Mars in China’s most ambitious robotic space mission to date.

Chinese media are reporting a successful launch of the Tianwen-1 mission, which is the nation’s first independent attempt to explore the Red Planet.

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

Tianwen-1 is the second of three missions to Mars during the current launch window, which occurs every two years.

The United Arab Emirates Mars Mission, also known as Hope, launched aboard a Japanese H-IIA rocket on July 20. Like Tianwen-1, UAE’s orbiter is set to enter Mars orbit in February 2021.

NASA is scheduled to launch its Perseverance rover to the Red Planet aboard an United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 30. The Mars 2020 mission also includes the Ingenuity helicopter, which will be the first vehicle to fly on another planet.