China launches Mars probe in space race with US

China, Hainan,  Mars mission

Wenchang - The probe was carried by a Long-March 5 rocket that took off from the base of Wenchang.



By AP/AFP

Published: Thu 23 Jul 2020, 8:47 AM

Last updated: Fri 31 Jul 2020, 9:59 AM

 China launched its most ambitious Mars mission yet on Thursday in a bold attempt to join the United States in successfully landing a spacecraft on the red planet.

Engines blazing orange, a Long March-5 carrier rocket took off under clear skies around 12.40pm from Hainan Island, south of China's mainland. Hundreds of space enthusiasts cried out excitedly on a beach across the bay from the launch site.


 
Mission to Mars: The race for the Red Planet



"This is a kind of hope, a kind of strength," said Li Dapeng, co-founder of the China branch of the Mars Society, an international enthusiast group. He wore a Mars Society T-shirt, and was there with his wife, 11-year-old son and 2,000 others on the beach to watch the launch.

Launch commander Zhang Xueyu announced to cheers in the control room that the rocket was flying normally about 45 minutes later. "The Mars rover has accurately entered the scheduled orbit," he said in brief remarks shown live on state broadcaster CCTV.

China's space agency said that the rocket carried the probe for 36 minutes before successfully placing it on the looping path that will take it beyond Earth's orbit and eventually into Mars' more distant orbit around the sun.
Mission to Mars: The race for the Red Planet (KT24948723.PNG)

"China joining (the Mars race) will change the situation dominated by the US for half a century," said Chen Lan, an independent analyst at GoTaikonauts.com, which specialises in China's space programme.
China has made huge strides in the past decade, sending a human into space in 2003.
The Asian powerhouse has laid the groundwork to assemble a space station by 2022 and gain a permanent foothold in Earth orbit.

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.

The Moon missions gave China experience in operating spacecraft beyond Earth orbit, but Mars is another story.

The much greater distance means "a bigger light travel time, so you have to do things more slowly as the radio signal round trip time is large," said McDowell.

It also means "you need a more sensitive ground station on Earth because the signals will be much fainter," he added, noting that there is a greater risk of failure.

China has upgraded its monitoring stations in the far-western Xinjiang region and northeastern Heilongjiang province to meet the Mars mission requirements, state news agency Xinhua reported last week.

The majority of the dozens of missions sent by the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and India to Mars since 1960 ended in failure.

Tianwen-1 is not China's first attempt to go to Mars.

A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely as the launch failed.

Now, Beijing is trying on its own.

"As long as (Tianwen) safely lands on the Martian surface and sends back the first image, the mission will... be a big success," Chen said.


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