Update (1200ET): Until Friday, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was very secretive about landing plans for its Mars rover. Then the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) chief adviser of Interplanetary Exploration Ye Peijian announced in a press conference Friday that landing operations would be conducted in the near term.
Late Friday night (or early Saturday morning in China), AP News confirmed that the rover, called Zhu Rong, successfully landed on the Red Planet via state media.
“The scientific research team confirmed via the telemetry signal sent by the Zhu Rong Mars rover that on May 15, the Tianwen-1 Lander successfully landed in the pre-selected landing area in the Utopia Plain of southern Mars,” CNSA said.
Landing on the Red Planet is dangerous — CNSA said it was “nine minutes of terror” as the lander descended toward the planet’s surface at a high rate of speed, and the thin atmosphere didn’t have enough friction to slow the descent.
Only NASA has reached the surface of Mars intact on multiple occasions. According to the diagram above, the lander relied on parachutes and rocket engines to slow the descent. This method is similar to NASA’s, who has landed Curiosity and Perseverance rovers on Mars.
Global Times reported the spacecraft reduced its altitude from its typical orbital trajectory and began the descent around 1600 ET Friday (or about 0400 local time in China Saturday).
Chinese President Xi Jinping praised CNSA and said the mission was an essential step in China’s space exploration.
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From currency war, to trade war, to tech war, to climate war, and now to space war, the superpower rivalry between the US and China continues to flare up with Beijing expected to land its rover on the red planet today.
CNET reports that the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since February, is expected to enter the Martian atmosphere at 7:11 p.m. ET. CNET cites multiple Twitter accounts that monitor China’s space programs, though we must point out CNSA has yet to confirm the timing.
The spacecraft is expected to descend into the atmosphere for approximately seven minutes. Then deploy a parachute with a lander and rover.
The rover, called Zhurong, will be China’s first attempt to probe the surface of the Red Planet in an ambitious mission called “Tianwen-1″ which was first launched in July 2020.
If all goes well this evening, the lander will smoothly touch down and will later deploy a 530-pound, solar-powered rover ready to explore the surface for water ice. The mission will allow China to map out the surface of Mars and prepare for future flights where it can send a spacecraft to the planet and return rocks or dirt to Earth.
Zhurong is set to explore Utopia Planitia for 90 Martian days, according to the Tianwen-1 team.
Meanwhile, NASA landed the Mars Perseverance rover in February, searched for signs of ancient life, and collected rock samples for a possible return to Earth. The rover also launched a helicopter called Ingenuity, which has flown five flights, taking off vertically, hovering, and landing.
The US and China have taken an interest in Mars because it is packed with rare metals, including lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, niobium, molybdenum, lanthanum, europium, tungsten, and gold, essential minerals that will power the economy of tomorrow.