Soil and water

Tianwen-1 mission gives China an edge on Mars

China officially wrapped up its Tianwen-1 mission to Mars on Wednesday, marking a big leap forward for its space program and a budding rivalry with the United States for an advantage in space.

China’s unmanned Tianwen-1 completed 1,344 orbits taking medium- and high-resolution images of the planet’s entire surface, providing 1,040 gigabytes of original scientific data during its two-year journey, the newspaper reported. of Chinese state Global Times. Tianwen means “search for heavenly truth” in Chinese, various reports noted.

Reuters identified some of the photos from Tianwen-1, including snaps of the planet’s south pole where nearly all of Mars’ water is locked in ice, the 18-kilometer-high Ascraeus Mons volcano, the Valles Marineris canyon of 4,000 kilometers and Arabia Terra impact craters.

The presence of groundwater may indicate that the planet has the potential to sustain life and the resources to support future human settlements, according to some reports.

A high resolution image showing the rim of a crater on Mars. Image: CNSA

The Tianwen-1 orbiter will continue remote sensing of the planet. Meanwhile, the Zhurong surface rover will resume operations in December this year after traveling 1,925.5 meters since May 22, 2021 and entering sleep mode on May 18, 2022 due to extreme cold, sand and dust at its landing site, the Global According to the Times report.

According to the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the mission of Tianwei-1 is to study the morphology and geological structure of Mars, the ground characteristics and the distribution of surface water ice, the composition of surface materials, the atmospheric ionosphere, surface climate and environment, as well as the physical field and internal structure of the planet.

Tianwen-1 is equipped with 13 different science payloads to accomplish its mission, with seven of these instruments loaded on the Tianwei-1 orbiter, six on the Zhurong rover, and two payload controllers installed separately on the orbiter and rover , as specified in an article published in the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Space Research.

In an interview in the peer-reviewed journal National Science Review, Chi Wang, director of Tianwen-1’s science payload subsystem, classifies these systems as optical cameras for orbiter and rover imaging, radars to detect underground structures, spectrometers to analyze soil and rock composition, and monitors space and atmospheric environments to detect Mars’ magnetic field, space radiation, and climate.

China said it was willing to share Mars data collected by Tianwen-1, with CNSA saying “scientific data will be available to scientists around the world at an appropriate time and scientists are welcome to apply for data research.

“Scientific exploration aims to know Mars deeply, and the scientific data obtained through orbital exploration around Mars will allow us to better understand it,” said Zhang Ronquiao, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 mission, interviewed in the South China Morning. Job.

The success of the Tianwen-1 mission makes China a strong contender in a multipolar space race involving established space powers such as the United States, Russia and the EU alongside newcomers such as India, China South Korea, Iran and Brazil.

“China’s successful landing on Mars demonstrates to the world that there is another country with advanced interplanetary space capabilities,” independent space analyst Namrata Goswami was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

The US Mars exploration program began in 1964 when the Mariner 4 orbiter returned 21 images of the surface of Mars. Currently, the Perseverance rover is searching for signs of ancient life on the planet and collecting samples for future analysis on Earth.

Exploration of Mars is primarily driven by its potential to become humanity’s second home, as it is the closest planet that most closely resembles Earth. As such, Mars exploration missions have focused on finding life or water on the planet, a breakthrough that could change the future of humanity.

An image of the dunes on Mars, taken by the Zhurong rover of the Tianwen-1 probe shortly before it entered dormancy in May 2022. Image: CNSA

Yongxin Pan, chief scientist of the Tianwen-1 mission, stresses the importance of knowing the processes that transformed Mars into the planet it is today, investigating whether it has or once had the characteristics necessary to support life, such as the oceans, a dense atmosphere, and the global magnetic field, during an interview in the National Science Review.

Pan mentions that although there is no clear evidence of life on Mars, he says there are potential signs of life on the planet, such as the seasonal variation of methane in the atmosphere.

The Tianwen-1 mission is also a milestone in China’s attempts to achieve self-sufficiency in interplanetary exploration technology.

Wang pointed out that China partnered with Russia at the start of its Mars exploration program, but that partnership fell through with the loss of the jointly designed Mars satellite Yinghuo-1 in a failed mission. launch in 2011. Therefore, Wang stressed the need for China to rely on its technology now that it has the Long 5 March rocket and its deep space surveillance network for future missions. on Mars.