China launches rocket with probe to Mars

China launches rocket with probe to Mars

The rover is set to explore the Red Planet for over three months. Hundreds of space enthusiasts watched from a beach across the bay.

After watching the United States and the Soviet Union lead the way during the Cold War, China has poured billions of dollars into its military-led space programme.

The probe, which is part of the Tianwen-1 (Questions to Heaven) mission, contains an orbiter, a lander, and a rover.

China, however, can take confidence from the successes of its two recent Chang'e Yutu lunar rovers, the second of which made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon a year ago.

In addition, mission planners need to design a reliable itinerary for the spacecraft to travel toward the planet.

Despite the historic difficulty of landing on Mars, China may have a leg up. "It's not to launch a competition with any other country", Liu Tongjie, spokesman for China's first Mars exploration mission, told reporters. Six other spacecrafts are exploring Mars from orbit: three American, two European and one Indian.

Last year, though, China's Chang'e-4 spacecraft became the first to make a soft landing on the far side of the moon.

"These operations involve a succession of sophisticated maneuvers and require each and every step to be carefully and elaborately planned and accurately carried out", he said."The heatproof cover, parachute and retrorockets on the probe created to decelerate the lander within a short time all must fulfill their tasks to guarantee the landing of the probe". But the Russian spacecraft carrying the probe failed to exit the Earth's orbit and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean.

Conquering Mars would put China in an elite club.

If the journey is successful, China will be the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission. NASA's InSight and Curiosity rovers still operate today. The total weight of "Tianwen-1" is approximately 5 tonnes, of which the descent module accounts for 1.3 tonnes; the orbital station weighs approximately 3.7 tonnes. Meanwhile, the Chinese orbiter will spend a few months surveying for an ideal place to land inside Utopia Planitia, according to mission scientists writing in Nature Astronomy. The US plans to send Mars rover Perseverance on its way to the red planet next week from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The proximity of the two planets is a window of opportunity that only happens once every couple of years. But given Musk's recent closeness to China, it's unclear if he'd ever consider launching from that country instead of the US, something that would be a huge blow to American prestige in space.

Instead, according to Cheng, China is in a "slow race" with Japan and India to establish itself as Asia's space power.

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