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Chinese orbiter Tianwen 1 completes its scientific mission on Mars

According to the China National Space Administration, Tianwen 1 (天问), China’s interplanetary mission, has completed all of its scientific objectives. The government said on Wednesday that the Tianwen 1 mission orbiter had taken medium-resolution photographs of the whole planet, completing its scientific objectives.

Related articles: History of the Chinese Space Program

Tianwen-1 is a Mars mission launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) that included six spacecraft: an orbiter, two deployable cameras, a lander, a remote camera, and the Zhurong rover. The mission’s scientific goals include investigating Martian surface geology and interior structure, searching for evidence of present and historic water presence, and characterizing Mars’ space environment and atmosphere. Tianwen-1 was launched on a Long March 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on July 23, 2020. On February 10, 2021, the spacecraft entered Martian orbit after a seven-month journey through the inner Solar System. The probe surveyed the intended landing areas from a reconnaissance orbit for the following three months. The lander/rover part of the mission successfully touched down on Mars on May 14, 2021, making China the third nation after the Soviet Union and the United States to accomplish a soft landing on and establish contact from the Martian surface.

Launch of Tianwen-1 from Wenchang on Hainan, 23 July 2020
Launch of Tianwen-1 from Wenchang on Hainan, 23 July 2020

According to the Chinese government, the vessel has circled Mars 1,344 times and will continue to conduct prolonged remote sensing operations and technology testing.

Meanwhile, the Zhurong Mars rover, which has been in hibernation mode since mid-May, is set to start excursions in December, when the weather is better. Tianwen 1, named after ancient Chinese poetry, was launched on July 23, 2020, becoming China’s first autonomous interplanetary exploration mission.

Before entering Martian orbit in February of last year, the spaceship traveled over 475 million kilometers and performed various trajectory modifications.

over Zhurong's rear hazard-avoidance camera
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has released a photo of an image captured by the rover Zhurong’s rear hazard-avoidance camera. (Source: CNSA/Xinhua)

The rover, named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese tradition, landed on Mars on May 15, 2021, and began traveling across the planet a week later. The 1.85-meter-tall, 240-kilogram robot went approximately 2,000 meters and collected a large amount of data and photographs on route to its target – a historic coastline area on Utopia Planitia, the wide Martian plain where it landed.

By now, the orbiter’s and rover’s 13 scientific sensors have returned approximately 1,040 terabytes of raw data to Earth. According to the government, the data has been sent to Chinese experts and has contributed to a better understanding of Mars.

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