Jul 23, 2020 - Science

China launches ambitious mission on journey to Mars

A full view of Mars and its storm clouds
A time-lapse of Martian weather in 2018. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

China's latest mission to Mars, which includes a lander, rover and orbiter, launched to the Red Planet Thursday.

Why it matters: If the mission is successful, China will become only the second nation after the U.S. to operate a rover on the surface of Mars.

  • The mission is the second of three bound for Mars expected to launch this month.
  • The United Arab Emirates already launched its Hope orbiter and NASA is planning to launch its Perseverance rover on July 30.

Details: China's mission, called Tianwen-1, is designed to conduct extensive geological research and mapping of the Red Planet, according to an article written by people involved in the mission published in Nature Astronomy last week.

  • "Scientifically, Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution," the article says.
  • The mission is carrying 13 scientific instruments in total, with seven on the orbiter and another six aboard the rover — all aimed at getting a complete picture of what's happening on the Red Planet today.

The big picture: For China, this mission is a point of national pride and a show of strength that would prove the country's significant investment in space has paid off in a major way.

  • The country's 2011 Mars mission launched with Russia didn't make it out of low-Earth orbit.

What's next: Tianwen-1 is expected to reach its orbit around Mars in February 2021, with science operations expected to start in April.

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