China’s Tianwen-1 Mars Mission Has Safely Entered An Elliptical Orbit Around… Mars. Success!

In spite of all the world’s travails (or perhaps. . . even on account of them!), it truly is an astonishing time to be alive — as three robotic nations reach Barsoom, in one week — safely. Assuming China is ultimately able to gently drop its rover to the surface, it will be only the third nation to ever achieve a soft landing on Mars.

The US is the only nation with multiple rovers in service on the red planet, and it will add to its total next week. Here’s the latest on the Chinese successes:

. . .China’s first interplanetary mission, Tianwen-1, successfully entered Mars orbit Feb. 10 following a 202-day journey through deep space.

Tianwen-1 initiated a near 15-minute burn of its 3000N main engine at 6:52 a.m. Eastern allowing the five-ton spacecraft to slow down and be gravitationally captured by Mars.

The Mars orbit insertion maneuver was designed to place the Tianwen-1 into an elliptical orbit of 400 by 180,000 kilometers inclined by 10 degrees, with an orbital period of 10 days. . . .

[Eventually, the mission will drop a rover to the surface, after it maps] a targeted rover landing site in Utopia Planitia. Landing coordinates of 110.318 degrees east longitude and 24.748 degrees north latitude had previously appeared in an official Chinese space publication before being removed.

Tianwen-1 joins the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission, which arrived Tuesday, in orbit around the Red Planet. NASA’s Perseverance rover will arrive and make a soft landing attempt Feb. 18.

Soviet, Japanese and U.S. spacecraft have previously failed at the orbital insertion stage of the mission. The Soviet Mars 4 mission was unable to fire its engines and thus continued past Mars, while NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999 approached too close, resulting in a mission-ending interaction with the Martian atmosphere. . . .

And with that, we are only about a week away from NASA JPL’s insertion burn, and parachuting of a car-sized rover and helicopter to the surface. . . it is eight days, actually. So, stay tuned! Grinning, as interplanetary space science is advancing — by leaps and bounds, daily now. . . .


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