China’s Tianwen 1 mission targets mid-May touchdown on Mars – Spaceflight Now

China’s Tianwen 1 orbiter took this image of Mars on March 18 from a distance of roughly 7,100 miles (11,500 kilometers). Credit: CNSA

China’s Tianwen 1 spacecraft — in orbit round Mars since February — is scheduled to deploy a descent module to aim the nation’s first touchdown on the Red Planet in mid-May. Officials plan to share the Mars rover’s scientific knowledge with researchers world wide, a senior Chinese scientist mentioned final week.

Chinese officers haven’t introduced the precise date for the tried Mars touchdown. Tianwen 1 mission managers have extra flexibility in setting the touchdown date than officers on different Mars missions.

Tianwen 1 will launch its lander and rover from its place in orbit round Mars. Most Mars landers, akin to NASA’s Perseverance rover, enter the Martian environment on a direct course from Earth. Those trajectories sometimes have preset touchdown dates tied to when the missions launched.

Wang Chi, director of the National Space Science Center on the Chinese Academy of Sciences, mentioned March 23 that Tianwen 1’s lander and rover are scheduled to the touch down on Mars in May.

“The first Chinese Mars mission, Tianwen 1, is now orbiting Mars, and we are landing in the middle of May,” Wang mentioned in a presentation to the National Academies’ Space Studies Board. “We are open to international cooperation, and the data will be available publicly soon.”

The Tianwen 1 spacecraft entered orbit round Mars on Feb. 10, finishing a virtually seven-month interplanetary journey that started final July with a launch on a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket, probably the most highly effective launcher in China’s stock.

The arrival of the Tianwen 1 spacecraft at Mars made China the sixth nation or area company have a probe orbiting the Red Planet, following the United States, the previous Soviet Union, the European Space Agency, India, and the United Arab Emirates.

Since Feb. 10, the Tianwen 1 spacecraft has maneuvered into an orbit nearer to Mars. The orbiter’s present path takes it as shut as 174 miles (280 kilometers) and so far as 36,660 miles (59,000 kilometers) from Mars. Tianwen 1 completes one lap across the Red Planet each two days or so.

Tianwen 1 arrived at Mars sooner or later after the UAE’s Hope orbiter steered into orbit across the Red Planet, and eight days earlier than touchdown of NASA’s Perseverance rover. The favorable planetary alignment of Earth and Mars that allowed the three missions to achieve Mars in February comes as soon as each 26 months.

A digital camera ejected from China’s Tianwen 1 spacecraft captured this view of the probe in deep area final yr on the journey from Earth to Mars. The Tianwen 1 mission’s lander and rover are contained in the white warmth defend. Credit: China National Space Administration

Tianwen 1’s lander and rover will goal touchdown in a broad plain within the northern hemisphere of Mars known as Utopia Planitia.

If China pulls off that feat, it’s going to make China the third nation to carry out a mushy touchdown on Mars — after the Soviet Union and the United States — and the second nation to drive a robotic rover on the Red Planet.

The Tianwen 1 orbiter, which is able to proceed its mission after releasing the lander and rover, is designed to function for not less than one Martian yr, or about two years on Earth. The solar-powered rover, fitted with six wheels for mobility, has a life expectancy of not less than 90 days, Chinese officers mentioned.

Once it releases the lander and rover, the Tianwen 1 orbiter will modify its orbit to transition into common science operations. The orbiter may even relay communications indicators between floor controllers in China and the rover exploring the Martian floor.

The Tianwen 1 rover is cocooned inside a warmth defend for a fiery descent to the floor of Mars. After releasing from the orbiter mothership, the lander will enter the Red Planet’s environment, deploy a parachute, then fireplace a braking rocket to decelerate for touchdown.

Assuming the touchdown is profitable, the rover will activate cameras, a subsurface radar, sensors to measure the composition of Martian rocks, a magnetic subject monitor, and a climate station to start gathering knowledge on the Utopia Planitia location.

With the latest arrivals of China’s Tianwen 1 and the UAE’s Hope missions, there at the moment are eight orbiters working at Mars.

NASA’s Odyssey spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the MAVEN atmospheric observatory are at the moment returning knowledge from Mars orbit, together with the European Space Agency’s Mars Express and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission.

NASA mentioned final week had a “limited exchange” of knowledge with China’s area company since Tianwen 1’s arrival on the Red Planet to share knowledge on the orbits of the Mars orbiters. The data-sharing initiative is aimed toward decreasing the danger of collisions between spacecraft working at Mars, NASA mentioned.

A provision in legislation generally known as the Wolf Amendment prohibits most bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Chinese area packages. The Wolf Amendment is named after former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, who first inserted the language right into a NASA funds invoice in 2011.

But the legislation doesn’t prohibit all contact between NASA and China’s area company, offered the proposed collaboration passes a evaluation by the FBI, and NASA informs Congress of the change not less than 30 days forward of time.

The China National Space Administration confirmed in a press release Wednesday that it held “working level meetings” with NASA from January via March on “exchanging ephemeris data to ensure the flight safety of Mars spacecraft.”

While NASA’s collaboration with China’s area program is proscribed, different nations have been extra concerned in Chinese missions like Tianwen 1.

Scientists from the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, or IRAP, in France contributed to a Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy instrument on the Tianwen 1 rover.

French scientists, with assist from the French area company CNES, offered steering to their Chinese counterparts on the spectroscopy method, which makes use of a laser to zap a pinhead-size portion of a rock, and a spectrometer to research the sunshine given off by plasma generated by the laser’s interplay with the rock’s floor.

The method permits an instrument to find out the chemical make-up of rocks on Mars. French scientists additionally offered China with a calibration goal for the rover’s laser spectroscopy instrument.

The identical French group labored on devices on NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers. The scientists hope to cross-calibrate measurements between the 2 U.S.-led missions and China’s Tianwen 1 rover.

Scientists from the Space Research Institute on the Austrian Academy of Sciences assisted within the growth of the magnetometer on the Tianwen 1 orbiter and helped calibrate the flight instrument.

Argentina is dwelling to a Chinese-owned deep area monitoring antenna used to speak with Tianwen 1. The European Space Agency additionally agreed to offer communications time for Tianwen 1 via its personal worldwide community of deep area monitoring stations.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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