Chinese pacecraft Lands On Mars In Latest Advance For Space Program

The official Xinhua News Agency said on Saturday that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space program Administration.

Chinese spacecraft lands on Mars in latest advance for space program

China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time in the latest advance for its space program.

The official Xinhua News Agency said on Saturday that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on a site on the Southern Utopia Plain “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time,” Xinhua said.

Plans call for a rover named Zhurong to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic tests before rolling down a ramp to explore an icy area known as Utopia Planitia.

Touchdown was at 7.18am Beijing time (9.18am AEST), according to the Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.

The distance between Earth and Mars caused a delay for mission control in Beijing to confirm successful deployment of a conical heat shield, rockets and a giant parachute to control the craft’s descent.

NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted his congratulations, saying, “Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet.”

Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven”, after a Chinese poem written two millennia ago, is China’s first independent mission to Mars. A probe co-launched with Russia in 2011 failed to leave the Earth’s orbit.

The five-tonne spacecraft blasted off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan in July last year, launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.

After more than six months in transit, Tianwen-1 reached the red planet in February where it had been in orbit since.

The landing follows China’s launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought back rocks from the moon late last year. The US has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976.

A rover and a tiny helicopter from the American landing in February are currently exploring Mars. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade.

China has landed on the moon before but landing on Mars is a much more difficult undertaking because it has an extremely thin atmosphere.

Spacecraft must use heat shields for protection from the searing heat of reentry and both retro-rockets and parachutes to slow enough to prevent a crash landing. The parachutes and rockets must be deployed at precise times to land at the designated spot.

Only mini-retro rockets are required for a moon landing, and parachutes alone are sufficient for returning to Earth, which has a much bigger atmosphere.

Originally published at The Sydney morning herald

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