China’s Tianwen-1 probe has sent back its first image of Mars, the national space agency said, as the mission prepares to touch down on the planet later this year.
- China could become the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission to Mars
- It aims to land a probe in a massive impact basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars
- China has spent billions on its military-led space programme and wants to build a space station by 2022
The spacecraft, which was launched in July around the same time as a rival US mission, is expected to enter an orbit of Mars around February 10.
The black-and-white photo released late on Friday by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) showed geological features including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris, a vast stretch of canyons on the Martian surface.
The photo was taken about 2.2 million kilometres from Mars, according to CNSA, which said the spacecraft was now 1.1 million km from the planet.
The robotic craft ignited one of its engines to “make an orbital correction” Friday and was expected to slow down before being “captured by Martian gravity” around February 10, the agency said.
China could set world record with inaugural mission
The 5 tonne Tianwen-1 includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet’s soil.
China hopes to ultimately land the rover in May in Utopia Planitia a massive impact basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars.
After watching the US and the Soviet Union lead the way during the Cold War, China has poured billions of dollars into its military-led space programme.
It has made huge strides in the past decade, sending a human into space in 2003.
China has laid the groundwork to assemble a space station by 2022 and gain a permanent foothold in Earth’s orbit.
But Mars has proved a challenging target so far, with most missions sent by the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and India to the planet since 1960 ending in failure.
If successful, the Tianwen-1 will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission to Mars.
That would further boost China’s space credentials, after it last year became the first nation to bring back samples from the moon since the 1970s.
Probe’s systems in ‘good condition’
Tianwen-1 is not China’s first attempt to reach Mars.
A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely as the launch failed — the Russian spacecraft carrying the probe failed to exit Earth’s orbit and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean.
China has already sent two rovers to the Moon.
With the second, China became the first country to make a successful soft landing on the far side.
All systems on the Tianwen-1 probe are in “good condition,” CNSA said.