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The Chinese Mars mission is close to the orbit of the Red Planet

The Chinese Mars mission is close to the orbit of the Red Planet

The Chinese space agency has a penchant for secrecy around its missions. He showed more openness in the past year, Provide live video on government media From launching its Chang’e-5 mission to the moon. If a more accurate arrival time is announced, we’ll make it available here.

Tianwen-1 was launched from China last July, taking advantage of a period when Mars and Earth were closer together during their travels around the sun. This allows for a relatively short transit between the two worlds.

To catch up with Mars, the spacecraft fired its engines several times, correcting its trajectory so it could approach the red planet at the right angle. The latest launch of the engine and the probe took place on February 5 Submit pictures of the red planet From a distance of about 1.3 million miles.

On Wednesday, the engine will be lit again, consuming a lot of residual fuel for the spacecraft in its braking maneuver. That should slow down dramatically, and allow the probe to be captured by the gravity of Mars. There it will orbit at a safe distance, join the crew of other robotic explorers in Mars orbit, and prepare for its subsequent surface landing attempt.

The history of spaceflight is replete with failed trips to Mars, including a Chinese mission in 2011 that did not come out of Earth’s orbit after the failure of the Russian missile it was traveling on. Some spacecraft have stumbled during this final step of preparing to enter Mars orbit.

For example, in 1999, NASA’s orbiting Mars planet suffered from a navigation error – English units were not converted to metric – and the spacecraft Burned in the Martian atmosphere. In 1992, NASA lost contact with its Mars Observer spacecraft days before it reached Mars, possibly because of Fuel line rupture. After a Soviet mission in 1974, Mars 4 failed to launch its old rocket, the spacecraft Sail away from Mars.

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However, the challenge of orbiting Mars is nothing compared to landing there.

The orbiter carries a landing craft and rover making the crossing to the surface difficult. China says it will Landing attempt on Mars early in MayHowever, it did not specify a date.

Her destination is Utopia Planetia, A large northern hemisphere basin likely to have been once affected by a meteor, and visited NASA Viking 2 countriesr in 1976. One of the goals of the Tianwen-1 mission is to better understand the distribution of ice in this region, which future human colonists on Mars could use to support themselves.

Landing on the red planet is fraught with risks. The spacecraft descends at high speed and the thin atmosphere does not help much in slowing the journey to Earth. Air friction still generates intense heat that must be absorbed or dissipated. A number of Soviet, NASA and European missions crashed. Only NASA landed intact more than once.

The Chinese spacecraft will spend months orbiting Mars to check systems and pick a landing point that won’t be too treacherous.

If the rover lands in one piece, it will need a name. After nominations from people in China, a panel of experts 10 contestants were selected in the semifinals. Among them, according to state media, is Hong Yi, a Chinese word for ambition and perseverance; Kylin, Hoofed creature from Chinese myth; And the a picnic, A young deity considered the patron of the rebellious youth.

Since China launched its mission to Mars in July, He was on the moon and back.

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The Chang’e-5 mission took off in November, collecting samples from the moon and then returning them to Earth for scientists to study. This was the first new lunar rock cache since the Soviet Union’s last mission to the Moon in 1976.

Chinese mission Chang’e-4, The first to land on the far side of the moon, Still in operation and its Yutu-2 rover still studying the moon’s surface more than two years after its launch.

It was the first robotic probe to reach Mars this year Hope, an orbiter from the nascent space agency in the United Arab Emirates. Arrived on Tuesday, and will begin to study the atmosphere of the red planet, to help planetary scientists understand the weather dynamics of Mars.

The third new visitor to Mars will be Perseverance, NASA’s newest spacecraft. It was launched shortly after the other two spacecraft were launched last July, and it will orbit Mars, heading straight to the planet’s surface on February 18th.

The robotic explorer will be NASA’s fifth vehicle on Mars, and it is very similar to Curiosity, which is now exploring the Gale crater. The new rover carries a different set of scientific tools and will Explore Jizero Crater, a dry lake Scientists think it might be a good target to search for fossilized evidence of extinct microbial life on Mars.

The mission will also attempt a new precedent on the Red Planet: A helicopter flies in the weak Martian atmosphere. The NASA Innovation helicopter will be shot down by the probe shortly after landing. Then it will attempt a number of test flights in the air delicately in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, with the aim of demonstrating that Mars can be explored through the air as well as on Earth.

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It just got a little crowded around the red planet.

Six orbits are currently studying the planet from space. Three were sent there by NASA: Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005, and MAVEN, which left Earth in 2013.

Europe has two spacecraft in orbit. The Mars Express orbiter was launched in 2003, and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter took off in 2016 and was shared with the Russian space program.

India is operated by the sixth spacecraft, the Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as the Mangalian, which was launched in 2013.

There are two American missions currently operating on the ground. Curiosity has been cruising since 2012. He is joined by InSight, which has been studying swamps and other internal characteristics of the red planet since 2018. A third US mission, the Opportunity rover, ended in 2019 when a dust storm caused it to lose its power. .

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