Tianwen 1 is 1st Chinese spacecraft to reach Mars

By ZHAO LEI | China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-11 08:01
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Illustration of Tianwen 1 probe entering Martian obit. [Photo provided to China Daily]

China's Tianwen 1 robotic probe entered a Martian orbit on Wednesday night after a lengthy interplanetary voyage, becoming the first Chinese spacecraft to reach the red planet.

The probe's 3,000-Newton-thrust orbital-control engine was activated at 7:52 pm and worked for about 15 minutes to conduct a crucial "braking" operation to decelerate the probe and help it be captured by Martian gravity.

Then the probe moved into an elliptical orbit with a perigee of about 400 kilometers and a circling period of 10 days, then started flying around the planet according to the China National Space Administration.

One of the most important and challenging steps in the Tianwen 1 mission, the Martian orbital operation came one day after the United Arab Emirates' Hope probe, the first interplanetary mission by the Arab world, entered Martian orbit.

The move was difficult because it required the probe to slow down within 10 minutes from the ultrafast speed of 28 kilometers per second to about 1 km/s, according to designers at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology who designed the Tianwen 1 orbiter. They noted that the whole process was autonomously executed by the craft.

Tianwen 1, the country's first independent Mars mission, was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket on July 23 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, kicking off the nation's planetary exploration program.

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