China is on Mars (Astronomy)

The Tianwen-1 mission lander touched the Red Planet’s surface at 01:18 a.m. this night. A result that makes China the second country in history, after the United States, to have successfully completed the landing on Mars. Next step: the Zhurong rover exits the lander to begin the science mission

Utopia Planitia . Mars. 01:18 am (here in Italy) on Saturday 15 May. After traveling for about ten months (she left Earth on May 23, 2020 ). After flying over its target for about three months (the insertion in orbit is on February 10, 2021 ). After having detached from the orbiter, having flown for about three hours , having come into contact with the atmosphere of Mars at an altitude of 125 km and having crossed it in “nine minutes of terror” (more than the usual seven, precisely because in orbit, therefore less fast than a spacecraft arriving directly from Earth), the lander of the Chinese space agency (CNSA) landed on Martian soil.

In those nine minutes it went from 20 thousand to zero km / h with a progressive deceleration and carrying out a predetermined sequence of operations: open the parachute, get rid of the heat shield, get rid of the parachute, turn on the retractors, identify a suitable site for landing. and complete the descent. A very complicated operation . So complicated that until now it had only been successfully completed by the United States (the Soviet Union had come very close to it in 1971 with the soft landing of Mars 3 , which however interrupted communications after a few seconds). China has not only succeeded – and it is already something extraordinary: it has succeeded on the first attempt.

The lander carrying China’s first Mars rover #Zhurong has touched down on the Red Planet, the China National Space Administration confirmed on Saturday morning. Zhurong has been designed to operate in the Red Planet for at least 90 Martian days. more:

— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) May 15, 2021

Along with those of the President Xi Jinping , the immediate congratulations from NASA, “the Tianwen-1 CNSA team for the successful landing of China’s first rover to Mars exploration, Zhurong!” Tweeted Thomas Zurbuchen , director of the scientific researches of the US space agency. “Together with the world scientific community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity in understanding the Red Planet.”

And it is in fact to the precious 240 kg load that is on board the lander – the Zhurong rover, named after the God of fire in some Chinese folk tales – that all attention is now directed. Equipped with seven scientific instruments – cameras, a radar for the study of the subsoil, a magnetic field detector and a weather station – and running on solar panels, when it comes into action it will be the third operational rover on Mars, together with Curiosity and Perseverance. Waiting for the European rover Rosalind of the ExoMars mission to join them at the beginning of 2023.

Featured image: Artist’s impression of the Tianwen-1 lander resting on the surface of the Red Planet. Credits: Cnsa

Provided by INAF

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