China’s first interplanetary Mars probe Tianwen-1 completes mission

China’s first interplanetary mission Tianwen 1 to Mars has accomplished its planned scientific exploration tasks, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Wednesday, the media reported.

Launched in July 2020, the mission’s orbiter has been monitoring the weather on Mars’ southern hemisphere, while the six-wheel solar-powered Zhurong rover has been mapping the Red Planet since it landed and started operations in May 2021.

The orbiter moved around Mars 1,344 times in the last 706 days and obtained mid-resolution visual data of the entire planet’s surface, the CGTN reported.

The rover, named Zhurong after the god of fire in Chinese mythology, travelled nearly 2 kilometres on Mars and entered hibernation on May 18 due to severe winter weather. It is expected to resume work when spring comes around December.

The probe transmitted about 1,040 gigabytes of raw data back to Earth, which will eventually be released for scientists around the world, said the CNSA, which has been gathering applications, the report said.

The CNSA has also been working with NASA in the US and the European Space Agency (ESA) to share orbiter data and warn about potential collisions with other probes. Zhurong has also tested relaying data through ESA’s Mars Express orbiter as a Sino-Europe scientific cooperation.

Meanwhile, China is aiming to beat NASA and ESA in returning Mars samples to Earth, SpaceNews reported.

According to Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission, China plans for a two-launch profile, lifting off in late 2028 and delivering samples to Earth in July 2031, SpaceNews reported.

Earlier in March, NASA had announced plans to delay its Mars Sample Return campaign and split a lander mission into two separate spacecraft to reduce the overall risk of the programme. Under the revised schedule, ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter is scheduled to launch in 2027, and the samples would return to Earth in 2033.

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