China’s first successful interplanetary mission has completed mapping the Red Planet more than a year after its arrival.
That tienwen 1 orbiter used its medium resolution camera to image the surface Mars; The spacecraft also fulfilled the science objectives assigned to the six other science payloads on board. With this milestone, both the orbiter and the rover Zhurong, which accompanied Tianwen 1 on its journey to Mars, have completed their planned scientific exploration tasks, according to to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
The agency also released new images showing a range of surface features on Mars as captured by Tianwen 1.
Related: Photos of the Chinese Mars mission Tianwen-1
Tianwen 1 arrived on Mars in February 2021 and has completed 1,344 orbits as of June 29, the CNSA found. The spacecraft first began imaging portions of the surface in Utopia Planitia, an area preselected for the Zhurong rover to land. This work contributed to a successful landing in May of this year.
Once the rover was on the surface, the orbiter provided support to Zhurong, primarily through communications relays, until November, when the spacecraft was deployed changed its orbit to start its own scientific program, including surveying the planet.
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The couple will continue with their work, although they have achieved the main goals, CNSA officials wrote. Tianwen 1 will be used for an aerobraking test later this year – which uses friction from the Martian atmosphere to slow the spacecraft – in preparation for Tianwen 3, a complex Mars Sample Return Mission Estimated launch in 2028. (tianwen 2 will bypass the Red Planet, instead collecting a sample from a near-Earth asteroid and examining a second space rock; the mission is currently targeting a launch in 2025.)
Zhurong, who traveled 6,304 feet (1921.5 meters) on Mars, is currently in hibernation due to winter in the northern hemisphere of Mars. The rover is expected to resume activity towards the end of the year with the onset of local spring when its sensors detect stronger solar radiation reaching the vehicle.
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