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Tianwen-1 gets into orbit around Mars

Tianwen-1 has entered orbit. This is the first Chinese interplanetary mission. Tianwen-1 burned its thrusters in 15 minutes at around 6:52 a.m. Eastern.  This allowed the spacecraft that weighs five tonnes to reduce speed to be captured by Mars gravitationally. The Mars orbit insertion was developed to put Tianwen-1 into the orbit of 400 by 180000KM. Tianwen-1 inclined by 10-degree and has an orbital time of 10 days.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. said that Tianwen would lower its orbit for Mars observations. It is also expected to start preparing for the entry and landing trial of a 240KG solar-powered rover, which will be held in May or June. At bout 265KM from the Earth’s surface, the orbiter will approach, enabling a high-resolution camera to capture images with a resolution of 0.05 meters per pixel.

Tianwen-1 joins Hope, the United Arab Emirates’ mission that reached orbit on Tuesday around the Red Planet. On 18th February, NASA’s Perseverance rover made a soft landing. Some of the spacecraft that had failed before during the orbital insertion stage of the mission include the Japanese, Soviet, and the US. For instance, in 1999, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter was near Mars, but the mission was interrupted. The Soviet Mars 4 did not burn its engines, making it go past Mars.

Science objectives

Tianwen-1 is developed such that it will be able to gather diverse data on the Martian surface and from orbit. A planetary scientist at the China University of Geosciences, Long Xiao, said that Tianwen-1 has 13 scientific payloads to help study the following: topography and Martian morphology, surface materials’ composition, surface regolith, ionosphere characteristics, environment, climate, and magnetic field. It will also help to search for the water ice with radars.

Long said that the main intention of Tianwen-1 is searching and mapping the water ice distribution on the subsurface and surface. Tianwen-1 has two autonomous sounding radars. One onboard the orbiter for carrying out a global survey with the primary focus being on high latitude regions. The other is placed on the rover. The two will offer more reliable data than a single one since radar data interpretation and processing are complex processes.

An associate professor who works at Macau University of Science and Technology, Zhang Xiaoping, said that using the radar system will help measure the Martian surface’s subsurface structure like the buried water ice. He added that this is essential as it will aid in studying Mars’ underlying geologic structures.

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