Chinese rover heads for landing on Mars – Spaceflight Now
A Chinese rover equipped with cameras, a weather station and a sophisticated laser spectrometer could land on Mars as early as Friday, a feat that would make China the second country to successfully land and operate a spacecraft on the surface of the red planet.
Chinese orbiter Tianwen 1 will release a module containing the rover a few hours before landing, sending the capsule on a trajectory to plunge into the Martian atmosphere for high-speed entry. The entry capsule, protected by a thermal barrier, will deploy parachutes, trigger a retro-propulsion system, and target a landing on a vast flat plain called Utopia Planitia in the northern hemisphere.
If all goes as planned, a 529-pound (240-kilogram) rover will exit the landing pad onto a ramp to begin to bypass the unexplored landing site.
China’s National Space Administration said on Friday the rover could land on Mars between early Saturday morning and Wednesday (May 15-19) Beijing time. Amateur radio enthusiasts who regularly track signals from distant space probes said the spacecraft could be on a landing path around 11:00 p.m. GMT (7:00 p.m. EDT) Friday, or early Saturday in Beijing.
But Chinese authorities have not confirmed the exact time of the planned landing.
The Tianwen 1 spacecraft, which transported the rover to Mars, was launched from Earth last July on China’s Long 5 March heavy rocket. Tiawen 1 became the first Chinese mission to orbit Mars when it arrived in February, making China the sixth country or space agency to have a probe orbiting the Red Planet, after the United States, the former Soviet Union, European Space Agency, India and United Arab Emirates.
China intends to join an even smaller international club with the Mars landing attempt. Only two countries have made a successful soft landing on the Red Planet.
The Soviet Union’s Mars 3 lander was the first spacecraft to soft-land on the Martian surface in December 1971, but the probe stopped transmitting about two minutes later.
Nine US missions have successfully landed on Mars since 1976.
Tianwen 1 arrived on Mars a day after the United Arab Emirates’ Orbiter Hope orbited the Red Planet and eight days before NASA’s Perseverance rover landed. The favorable planetary alignment of Earth and Mars that allowed the three missions to reach Mars in February occurs once every 26 months.
Since arriving on Mars in February, the Tianwen 1 spacecraft has maneuvered into an orbit closer to the planet to prepare for the deployment of the capsule containing the mission’s rover, named Zhurong after the god of fire in mythology. ancient Chinese.
The name Tianwen comes from the title of a poem written by ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan. Tianwen translates to Questions to Heaven.
The Tianwen 1 orbiter had to adjust the low point of its elongated orbit to reach a collision course with Mars in the hours before the rover landed. Once ground crews confirm the orbiter is on the right track, the aircraft carrier will deploy the entry module and fire thrusters to reestablish a stable orbit around Mars.
Most Martian landers enter the Martian atmosphere by following a direct path from Earth. These trajectories generally have predefined landing dates linked to the launch of the missions. The design gives Chinese authorities the flexibility to plan the landing.
The Tianwen 1 orbiter, which will continue its mission after the lander and rover are released, is designed to operate for at least one Martian year, or roughly two years on Earth. The solar-powered rover, standing about 1.8 meters high, has a life expectancy of at least 90 days, Chinese officials said.
In addition to mapping and surveying tasks, the orbiter will relay communication signals between ground controllers in China and the rover exploring the Martian surface.
Assuming the landing is successful, the rover will activate cameras, an underground radar to probe groundwater ice, sensors to measure the composition of Martian rocks, a magnetic field monitor, and a weather station to start collecting. data to the location of Utopia Planitia.
The Zhurong rover has six wheels and sizes slightly larger than NASA’s former Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004. The Chinese craft is significantly smaller than NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers. .
Wang Chi, director of the National Center for Space Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in March that China was “open to international cooperation” and that data from the Tianwen 1 mission would “be publicly available soon.”
Scientists from the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, or IRAP, in France have contributed to a laser-induced fracture spectroscopy instrument on the Tianwen 1 rover.
French scientists, with support from the French space agency CNES, have provided advice to their Chinese counterparts on the spectroscopy technique, which uses a laser to zap a part the size of a pinhead from a rock, and a spectrometer to analyze the light emitted by the generated plasma. by the interaction of the laser with the rock surface.
The advanced technique allows an instrument to determine the chemical composition of rocks on Mars. French scientists also provided China with a calibration target for the rover’s laser spectroscopy instrument.
The same French team worked on instruments on NASA’s Mars Curiosity and Perseverance rovers. Scientists hope to cross-calibrate measurements between the two US-led missions and China’s Tianwen 1 rover.
Scientists from the Institute for Space Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences contributed to the development of the Tianwen 1 orbiter’s magnetometer and helped calibrate the flight instrument.
Argentina is home to a Chinese-owned deep space tracking antenna that is used to communicate with Tianwen 1. The European Space Agency has also agreed to provide airtime for Tianwen 1 through its own global network of satellite stations. deep space pursuit.
Cooperation between NASA and China is limited by a law that bars the US space agency from almost any bilateral engagement with the Chinese space program.
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