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China launches first-ever mission to Mars in space race with US

Issued on: 23/07/2020 – 07:16

China launched its most ambitious Mars mission ever on Thursday in a bold attempt to join the United States in successfully landing a spacecraft on the red planet.

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The Tianwen-1 was launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from a launch site on Hainan Island.

It marked the second flight to Mars this week, after a United Arab Emirates orbiter blasted off on a rocket from Japan on Monday. And the U.S. is aiming to launch Perseverance, its most sophisticated Mars rover ever, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next week.

Chinas tandem spacecraft — with both an orbiter and a rover — will take seven months to reach Mars, like the others. If all goes well, Tianwen-1, or “quest for heavenly truth,” will look for underground water, if its present, as well as evidence of possible ancient life.

Just now, China's first Mars probe, Tianwen-1, was launched from Wenchang space launch site in Hainan.
Congratulations on China's another step in space exploration!#Mars2020 pic.twitter.com/Olc5yT2gvU

— ShanghaiPanda (@thinking_panda) July 23, 2020

This isnt Chinas first attempt at Mars. In 2011, a Chinese orbiter accompanying a Russian mission was lost when the spacecraft failed to get out of Earths orbit after launching from Kazakhstan, eventually burning up in the atmosphere.

This time, China is going at it alone. It also is fast-tracking, launching an orbiter and rover on the same mission instead of stringing them out.

Chinas secretive space program has developed rapidly in recent decades. Yang Liwei became the first Chinese astronaut in 2003, and last year, Change-4 became the first spacecraft from any country to land on the far side of the moon.

Joining elite club

Conquering Mars would put China in an elite club.

“There is a whole lot of prestige riding on this,” said Dean Cheng, an expert on Chinese aerospace programs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Landing on Mars is notoriously difficult. Only the U.S. has successfully landed a spacecraft on Martian soil, doing it eight times since 1976. NASA's InSight and Curiosity rovers still operate today. Six other spacecraft are exploring Mars from orbit: three American, two European and one from India.

Unlike the two other Mars missions launching this month, China has tightly controlled information about the program — even withholding any name for its rover. National security concerns led the U.S. to curb cooperation between NASA and China's space program.

In an article published earlier this month in Nature Astronomy, mission chief engineer Wan Weixing said Tianwen-1 would slip into orbit around Mars in February and look for a landing site on Utopia Planitia — a plain where NASA has detected possible evidence of underground ice. Wan died in May from cancer.

The landing would then be attempted in April or May, according to the article. If all goes well, the 240-kilogram (530-pound) golf cart-sized, solar-powered rover is expected to operate for about three months, and the orbiter for two years.

Though small compared to America'sRead More – Source

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