China’s National Space Administration said the spacecraft implemented a move to change its orbit early Wednesday morning during Beijing time and will remain in the new orbit for about the next three months before attempting to land. During that time, it maps the surface of Mars and uses its cameras and other sensors to gather more data, particularly about its landing site.
That follows a U.S. Sustainability pilgrimage trip last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to find signs of the life of an ancient microscope.
With a successful bid to land Tianwen-1, China would be only the second country after the U.S. launched a spacecraft on Mars. China’s solar-powered vehicle, about the size of a golf cart, will collect data on groundwater and look for evidence that the planet may once have damaged microscopic life.
Tianwen, the title of an old poem, means “Quest for Heavenly Truth.”
It is very difficult to land a spaceship on Mars. About a dozen orbiters lost the signal. In 2011, a Chinese orbiter attached to Mars that was part of a Russian mission did not make it out of Earth orbit.
China’s effort includes parachute, rocket firing and airbags. The landing site is a large rocky area called Utopia Planitia, where the U.S. Viking lands 2 fell in 1976.
Before Tianwen-1 reached Mars on February 10, an orbiter arrived from the United Arab Emirates. All three of the most recent messages were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that only happens once every two years.
Tianwen-1 represents the most advanced mission yet for a secret, weapon-linked space program that placed an astronaut in orbit around the Earth in 2003 and last year brought lunar rocks back to Earth for the first time. times from the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the other side of the moon in 2019.
China is also building a permanent space station and planning a crew-based lunar mission and a possible permanent research center on the moon, although dates have not yet been proposed.
The program is a source of great national pride and Tianwen-1 has continued to be particularly strong among the public. Tourists would visit the tropical island of Hainan to watch the unveiling, while others would visit the mock colonies of Mars in desert sites with white cups, planes and space suits.