Following the completion of multiple integrated rehearsals, China is ready for the launch of its first fully homegrown Mars mission. Tianwen-1, which consists of an orbiter, lander and rover, is scheduled to lift off in late July or early August, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Speculation is that the launch is targeted for July 23, the opening of the window. Last Friday (July 17), the fourth Long March-5 rocket — coded as Long March-5 Y4 — was vertically transported to the launching area at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province.
In a recent interview with China Central Television (CCTV), Tianwen-1 deputy director Zhang Yu said that scientists have conducted joint tests on multiple systems of the Mars mission at all levels and are ready for the launch. “We have carried out multiple coordinated manoeuvres over flight and control together with launching site system, the rocket system and the probe system, which have verified the validity of interfaces between different systems and the flight program, and also indicated that we are capable of conducting the first Mars probe of our country,” said Zhang.
China’s Mars mission is ambitious, aiming to pull off orbiting, landing and roving — a historic all-in-one mission. To do so, the country has beefed up its deep-space monitoring network capability to support the Tianwen-1 mission. Once the probe has entered Earth-Mars transfer orbit, the control centre’s two monitoring stations, in Kashgar of north-western Xinjiang’s Uygur Autonomous Region, and Jiamusi, in north-eastern Heilongjiang Province, will swing into action.
China’s bid to explore Mars involves several other nations for tracking, orbital relay of data and science instrument support. The European, French, Argentine and Austrian space agencies are all helping out. At the Long March-5 rollout, the booster’s protective payload fairing was seen to be adorned with European (ESA), French (CNES), Argentine (CONAE) and Austrian (FFG) space agency logos, in addition to that of the CNSA. “Successful space travel often means pooling resources, and at ESA we are happy to support the new Martian mission with our Estrack network of antennas as well as with our Mars Express spacecraft, currently in orbit at the Red Planet,” ESA’s Beatriz Arias told Space.com.