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

Engines blazing orange, a Long March-5 rocket  took off under clear skies from Hainan Island,  south of China’s mainland, as space enthusiasts  gathered on a beach across the bay from the  launch site.

China Space

China Mars

“This is a kind of hope, a kind of strength,” said Li  Dapeng, co-founder of the China branch of the  Mars Society, an advocacy group. He watched  with his wife, 11-year-old son and 2,000 others  on the beach.

Launch commander Zhang Xueyu announced  to cheers in the control room that the rocket  was flying normally about 45 minutes later. “The  Mars rover has accurately entered the scheduled  orbit,” he said in brief remarks shown live on  state broadcaster CCTV.

China’s space agency said that the rocket carried  the probe for 36 minutes before successfully  placing it on the looping path that will take it  beyond Earth’s orbit and eventually into Mars’  more distant orbit around the sun.
Liu Tongjie, spokesman for the mission, said in  a press briefing that the launch was a “key step  of China marching towards farther deep space.”  He said that China’s aim wasn’t to compete  with other countries, but to peacefully explore  the universe.

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.

“It’s amazing that another nation has launched  the case for Mars,” said Katarina Miljkovic, a planetary scientist at Curtin University in  Australia. “It’s more like this marathon of space  that we all want to be running.” China’s 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 it’s present, as well as  evidence of possible ancient life.
This isn’t China’s first attempt at Mars. In 2011, a  Chinese orbiter accompanying a Russian mission  was lost when the spacecraft failed to get out of  Earth’s orbit after launching from Kazakhstan,  eventually burning up in the atmosphere.

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

Tianwen-1 Space launch

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

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.

The launch was “gutsy,” said Jonathan McDowell,  an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian  Center for Astrophysics. The next challenge is for  the spacecraft to be “still working when it gets to  Mars and survives entry and landing.” 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 lander and Curiosity rover 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.

Mars rover

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, solarpowered rover is expected to operate for about  three months, and the orbiter for two years.
Though small compared to America’s hulking,  car-sized 1,025-kilogram (2,260-pound)  Perseverance, it’s almost twice as big as the two  rovers China has sent to the moon in 2013 and  2019. Perseverance is expected to operate for at  least two years.

This Mars-launching season — which occurs  every 26 months when Earth and Mars are at  their closest — is especially busy.

The UAE spacecraft Amal, or Hope, which will  orbit Mars but not land, is the Arab world’s first  interplanetary mission. NASA’s Perseverance  rover is up next.

“At no other time in our history have we seen  anything like what is unfolding with these three  unique missions to Mars. Each of them is a science  and engineering marvel,” the Space Foundation’s  chief executive officer Thomas Zelibor said in an  online panel discussion earlier this week.

China Space station distory

China’s road to Mars hit a few bumps: A Long  March-5 rocket, nicknamed “Fat 5” because of its  bulky shape, failed to launch earlier this year. The  coronavirus pandemic forced scientists to work  from home. In March, when instruments needed  to be transported from Beijing to Shanghai, three  team members drove 12 hours to deliver them.
While China is joining the U.S., Russia and  Europe in creating a satellite-based global  navigation system, experts say it isn’t trying to  overtake the U.S. lead in space exploration.

Instead, Cheng of the Heritage Foundation said  China is in a “slow race” with Japan and India to  establish itself as Asia’s space power.

Reference By Tech Life Magazine

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