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    Launch of the "Long March 5-Y4" transporter rocket, Wengchan, China, July 23, 2020. | Photo: EFE

Published 23 July 2020
Opinion

The next stage of China's Martian program is to send a larger probe around 2030 to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.

China Thursday entered the race to explore Mars by successfully launching its first probe to land on that planet in May 2021 to explore its surface.

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The probe was launched on the "Long March 5-Y4" transport rocket from the Wenchang Space Center in Hainan province.

After about 36 minutes of flight, the spacecraft reached Earth-Mars transfer orbit and the probe is expected to reach Mars' gravitational field after a 400 million kilometer journey.

The Tianwen-1 mission aims to orbit, land, and explore Mars. Mission spokesman Liu Tongjie explained that Chinese scientists will study morphology and geology of the soil, the distribution of near-surface frozen water, the climatic conditions of the surface, the atmospheric ionosphere, the magnetic fields and the internal structure of the planet.

If successful, this will be the first Chinese mission to orbit, land, and explore Mars on the first try. In 2011, China and Russia sent the Yinghuo-1 probe to orbit Mars, but the spacecraft failed to leave Earth orbit and eventually fell into the Pacific Ocean.

In 2019, China began conducting experiments to prepare for the probe's descent and landing, a mission whose success would be an "unprecedented achievement," the China National Space Administration said.

Landing is the biggest challenge the mission will face and will comprise a process with four stages of seven to eight minutes in total in which the probe must drop from 20,000 kilometers per hour to zero, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences member Bao Ming, commented to Xinhua.

After entering Martian orbit, the probe will remain there for two to three months, in which it will use a high-resolution camera to identify landing zones.

According to Liu, the most likely area for "landing" will be a plain known as Utopia Planitia that has not been investigated by other countries and could be the coast of an ancient ocean or lake.

If the landing is successful, a rover will be deployed to explore for about 90 days. This vehicle has four solar panels that will allow you to move at about 200 meters per hour.

Meanwhile, the orbiter, which will be active for around a Martian year (about 687 Earth days), will act as a point of communication with the rover.

 "The successful launch is only the first step in China's mission to Mars, and we hope that each of the key steps in this long journey will be carried out successfully," the National Space Administration official Geng Yan said. 

The next stage of China's Martian program is to send a larger probe around 2030 to collect samples and bring them back to Earth. Beijing has already set a long-term goal of sending humans to the red planet.

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