China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft captures stunning photos of Mars

A stunning image showing Mars as a bright sunlit crescent has been taken by the China‘s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, currently in a parking orbit around the Red Planet.

The uncrewed spacecraft entered a temporary parking orbit around Mars on February 24 in anticipation of landing a rover on the surface by the end of June.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released two new images captured by the probe that show the planet in a crescent shape with surface textures visible. 

The CNSA mission is one of three Earth spacecraft to visit Mars in 2021, and the only one to include both an orbiting spacecraft and rover that will land on the Red Planet. 

The crescent images were taken with a medium-resolution camera when the probe was 6,800 miles (11,000 km) from Mars, on the far side of the planet to the sun. 

They reveal different colours across the face of the Red Planet, as well as the faint outline of the planet’s thin, dusty atmosphere. 

The crescent images were taken with a medium-resolution camera when the probe was 6,800 miles (11,000 km) from Mars, on the far side of the planet to the sun

The crescent images were taken with a medium-resolution camera when the probe was 6,800 miles (11,000 km) from Mars, on the far side of the planet to the sun

The crescent images were taken with a medium-resolution camera when the probe was 6,800 miles (11,000 km) from Mars, on the far side of the planet to the sun

TIANWEN-1: A MARS PROBE AND ROVER FROM CHINA

The spacecraft, Tianwen-1, gets its name from the title of an ancient poem and means ‘Quest for Heavenly Truth’ in English.

It is one of the most ambitious missions by the Chinese space agency so far undertaken. 

The mission is in two stages, consisting of a probe that will map the surface, and a rover to search for life.

The probe is equipped with a range of cameras to map the surface and find a safe landing spot. 

The unnamed rover weighs 240kg, has six wheels, four solar panels and can move at 200 metres per hour. 

it includes a number of scientific instruments including ground-penetrating radar and a device to monitor the weather.

Unlike Perseverance, expected to operate for years, the Chinese rover is designed to last three months. 

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There are a number of cameras and other scientific equipment onboard the uncrewed spacecraft that will allow for the orbital exploration of Mars.

These tools, including the high-resolution camera, medium-resolution camera, mineral spectrometer and other payloads will also help the CNSA find a landing spot for the rover, currently strapped to the orbiting vehicle.

The equipment has been switched on one after another to carry out exploration of Mars and obtain scientific data, according to the CNSA.   

The probe is in a polar parking orbit around the Red Planet, taking it from 174 miles (280 km) from the surface to as far away as 36,600 miles (59,00 km). 

This allows it to pass close to the primary landing site candidate for its rover mission and study the terrain ahead of picking a date to make the landing.

A successful bid to land Tianwen-1 would make China only the second country after the US to place an operating rover on Mars. 

The high resolution camera on the probe has been particularly useful to the CNSA in gathering data on the proposed landing site. 

The CNSA says that a landing attempt will be made in May or June, depending on succesful study of the landing site .

China’s solar-powered vehicle, about the size of a golf cart, will collect data on underground water and look for evidence that the planet may have once harboured microscopic life.  

This is a similar mission to the NASA Perseverance rover that landed on February 18 near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater. 

China’s landing attempt will involve a parachute, rocket firings and airbags. 

Its proposed landing site is a vast, rock-strewn plain called Utopia Planitia, where the NASA Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.

They reveal different colours across the face of the Red Planet, as well as the faint outline of the planets thin, dusty atmosphere

They reveal different colours across the face of the Red Planet, as well as the faint outline of the planets thin, dusty atmosphere

They reveal different colours across the face of the Red Planet, as well as the faint outline of the planets thin, dusty atmosphere

Earlier images shared by the CNSA, taken in the middle of February revealed a close up view of Martian surface features.

They included a colour image showing a dramatic landscape on the near dead world, and two black and white images from 200 miles (330km) above the surface. 

The black and white images taken with a high resolution camera revealed small craters, ridges, dunes and other surface features.

At the end of February the CNSA revealed this image that shows a high-resolution photo of the surface of Mars taken by China's Tianwen-1 probe

At the end of February the CNSA revealed this image that shows a high-resolution photo of the surface of Mars taken by China's Tianwen-1 probe

At the end of February the CNSA revealed this image that shows a high-resolution photo of the surface of Mars taken by China’s Tianwen-1 probe

THREE MISSIONS TO MARS IN 2021: US, UAE AND CHINA AT OR ON THE RED PLANET

So far 2021 has been the ‘year of Mars’ with three spaceships from Earth arriving at the Red Planet.

The first visitor from Earth to arrive was also a first for the Arab world – the United Arab Emirates ‘Hope’ probe.  

This spaceship is going to monitor the weather on Mars over a full year.

The second ship was from China – Tianwen-1 will orbit Mars until May when it will deploy a rover.

This will make China only the second country after the US to land a rover on Mars if it is succesful.

NASA’s Perseverance was the last of the three to arrive in Martian orbit, but the first to land on the Red Planet. 

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The spacecraft, Tianwen-1, gets its name from the title of an ancient poem and means ‘Quest for Heavenly Truth’ in English.

The spacecraft arrived at Mars on February 10, 2021, then carried out a complicated manoeuvre to enter a temporary parking orbit on February 24.  

It will remain in the new orbit for about the next three months before attempting to land on the surface of the Red Planet.  

It was recently revealed that as their respective spacecrafts headed to Mars, China and the US held consultations to ‘ensure the flight safety’ of the crafts.

US law bans almost all contacts between NASA and China over concerns about technology theft and the secretive, military-backed nature of China’s space program.

However, exceptions can be made when NASA can certify to Congress that it has protections in place to safeguard information.

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said the most recent exchange was about China providing orbital and other data for its Mars mission so they could analyse the risk of collision. “We do have targeted engagement with them,” he said.

Tianwen-1’s arrival at Mars on February 10 was preceded by that of an orbiter from the United Arab Emirates, who also had discussions with NASA about orbital paths.

All three of the latest missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that happens only once every two years.

The high-resolution camera that took this has a resolution of about 0.7 metres, allowing the camera to capture clear small craters, ridges, dunes and other surface features

The high-resolution camera that took this has a resolution of about 0.7 metres, allowing the camera to capture clear small craters, ridges, dunes and other surface features

The high-resolution camera that took this has a resolution of about 0.7 metres, allowing the camera to capture clear small craters, ridges, dunes and other surface features 

The high-resolution camera on Tianwen-1 is helping the CNSA to prepare for landing on the Red Planet by the end of June

The high-resolution camera on Tianwen-1 is helping the CNSA to prepare for landing on the Red Planet by the end of June

The high-resolution camera on Tianwen-1 is helping the CNSA to prepare for landing on the Red Planet by the end of June

Tianwen-1 represents the most ambitious mission yet for China’s secretive, military-linked space program that first put an astronaut in orbit around Earth in 2003 and last year brought moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. 

China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.

The country is also building a permanent space station, recently announcing a cohort of astronauts is currently training for four crewed missions this year. 

This view of the planet Mars was captured by China's Tianwen-1 Mars probe from a distance of 2.2 million kilometers before it arrived in orbit in February

This view of the planet Mars was captured by China's Tianwen-1 Mars probe from a distance of 2.2 million kilometers before it arrived in orbit in February

This view of the planet Mars was captured by China’s Tianwen-1 Mars probe from a distance of 2.2 million kilometers before it arrived in orbit in February

The station’s core module, christened Tianhe, could be launched as soon as next month, according to the China National Space Administration and foreign observers.

The massive Long March-5B Y2 rocket and its payload were moved into place last month at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in tropical Hainan province for assembly and testing.

That launch would be the first of 11 missions over the next two years to finish constructing the station by the end of 2022. 

Two other modules will be launched later, along with four Tianzhou cargo supply mission and the four Shenzhou crewed missions.

The Tianwen-1 probe (pictured) entered a parking orbit around the planet on February 24

The Tianwen-1 probe (pictured) entered a parking orbit around the planet on February 24

The Tianwen-1 probe (pictured) entered a parking orbit around the planet on February 24 

Chang Zheng 5 (Long March 5) carrier rocket with the Tianwen-1 Mars rover launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on July 23, 2020

Chang Zheng 5 (Long March 5) carrier rocket with the Tianwen-1 Mars rover launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on July 23, 2020

Chang Zheng 5 (Long March 5) carrier rocket with the Tianwen-1 Mars rover launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on July 23, 2020

CNSA listed 12 astronauts training for the crewed missions, including veterans of previous Shenzhou flights, newcomers and women, though it wasn’t clear if there were others selected.

Up to three crew members will live at a time in the the core module, which has docking ports to allow the attachment of scientific modules launched later.

China has already launched two smaller experimental space stations to test measures for rendezvous, docking and life support aboard. 

Once completed, the permanent space station will allow for stays of up to six months, similar to the International Space Station (ISS).

CHINA STEPS UP PLANS TO BECOME SPACE SUPERPOWER WITH MARS AND MOON MISSIONS

Officials from the Chinese space agency are working to become a space superpower alongside the US and Russia.

They have already sent the first lander to explore the far side of the Moon – sharing photos from the part of our nearest neighbour we rarely see as part of the Chang’e-4 mission.

In November 2020 they sent the Chang’e-5 space probe to the Moon to collect and return the first samples of lunar soil in 45 years.

This was done in collaboration with the European Space Agency who provided tracking information for the Chinese spaceship. 

Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the south pole of the Moon and is expected to launch in 2023 or 2024.

Chang’e-7 will study the land surface, composition, space environment in an overall mission, according to the Chinese space authority, while Chang’e-8 will focus on technical surface analysis.

China is also reportedly working on building a lunar base using 3D printing technology and sending a future crewed mission to the surface.

Mission number eight will likely lay the groundwork for this as it strives to verify the technology earmarked for the project.

The CNSA is also building an Earth-orbiting space station where Chinese astronauts will conduct scientific experiments, similar to the crew of the ISS.

The agency also launched a mission to Mars in summer 2020 which will see them land a rover on the surface of the red planet in February 2021.

China is also said to be working on a project to build a solar power generator in space, that would beam energy back to Earth and becoming the largest man made object in orbit. 

They also have a number of ambitious space science projects including satellites to hunt for signs of gravitational waves and Earth observation spacecrafts to monitor climate change. 

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