The first interplanetary probe in China is now so close to Mars that its camera can make craters across the surface of the Red Planet.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft, a group of robots launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in July, has spent the past six months speeding through space. Just 2.2 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from its destination, the probe sent its first image: a black and white snapshot of Mars.
CNSA released the photo on Friday. at Press releaseThe agency said the probe launched an engine as part of a fourth “orbital correction”, or course modification, through space. Now the important Mars gravity should be pulled into the correct orbit around the planet.
The five-ton probe is scheduled to perform braking to slow its high-speed space flight and slide into orbit around Mars on February 10. After that, the spacecraft will spend two months surveying a landing site in Utopia Planetia, a vast area. The area of ancient volcanic rocks.
The orbiter should drop a spacecraft compound onto the planet’s surface in May CNSA said. If the rocket-powered landing went smoothly, the probe would deploy a two-lane ramp for the rover to roll onto the Martian soil. The vehicle’s radar system will help Chinese researchers search for underground pockets of liquid water. (Meanwhile, the probe will continue to orbit the red planet and transmit data to Earth.)
These ancient water reservoirs could be a relic of a time billions of years ago when Mars was flowing with rivers, thanks to an atmosphere that’s thicker and more protective than it exists today. During this era, Mars was somewhat like Earth, and scientists believe it may have hosted strange microbial life. Any pockets of underground water, shielded from unfiltered sunlight and the emptiness of space, may still harbor such species, if any.
If successful, Tianwen-1 would be the first mission to Mars to send a spacecraft into orbit, bring down a landing pad, and deploy a rover on a single expedition. It also marks China’s first landing on another planet and helps the nation prepare for a future mission that may return a sample of Martian rocks or dirt to Earth in late 2020.
As of Friday, CNSA said Tianwen-1 is about 1.1 million kilometers (680,000 miles) away from its destination.
Two other missions launched around the same time as Tianwen-1 – NASA Roving Perseverance And the Realizing Emirati hope They will also reach Mars in the next two weeks. All three missions take advantage of a window when Mars passes close to Earth, which reduces travel time and cost.
China attempted to send an orbiter to Mars in 2011, but the Russian spacecraft it was supposed to carry there I stopped in Earth’s orbit And they did not leave.
Tianwen-1 is the closest planet that China has ever reached. With luck – and proper geometry for a terrible encounter. “Seven minutes of horror“As it sinks toward Mars – it will reach the surface.