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Mars: China's Tianwen-1 probe to enter orbit © NASA/JPL

Mars: China's Tianwen-1 probe to enter orbit

Published: 10th February, 2021 at 09:52
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The orbiter will become the second of three missions to reach the Red Planet this month.

Mars is set to welcome its second probe in the space of 24 hours on Wednesday 10 February, with China’s Tianwen-1 expected to enter orbit.


The country is hoping to add its name to the short list of nations that have successfully reached the Red Planet, after its first attempt with Russia in 2011 failed to make it through Earth’s orbit.

Tianwen-1 – or 'the Quest for Heavenly Truth' – is a double orbiter and rover effort and, should all go well, the latter will make its way to the surface in May via a lander. This would make China only the second country to successfully place a rover on Mars.

Tianwen-1 is the second of three Mars landings taking place in February. On Tuesday, the UAE’s Hope probe entered orbit, while next week NASA’s Perseverance rover will attempt to land on the Red Planet with its Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

The spacecraft blasted off from Earth seven months ago on board a Long March-5 carrier rocket from Hainan Island, China.

Image of Mars taken by China’s Tianwen-1 © CNSA/PA
Image of Mars taken by China’s Tianwen-1 © CNSA/PA

Last week, Tianwen-1 sent back its first photo of Mars, taken around 2.2 million kilometres (1.4 million miles) away from the planet.

A fourth orbital correction was conducted by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Friday, igniting one of its engines to ensure the spacecraft is flying in the right direction toward the Martian gravitational field.

The aim of the mission is to look for underground water as well as searching for evidence of possible ancient life.

Its solar-powered rover weighs 240kg and should operate for about three months, while the orbiter is expected to last two years.

Graphic showing the orbiter, lander and rover of the Tianwen-1 mission © PA Graphics
© PA Graphics

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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.


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