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1. Country to ‘Master of Mars’ – China releases stunning images of the Red Planet as it aims to beat the US in the space race

China’s first interplanetary exploration mission, the Mars probe Tianwen-1, was successfully launched on July 23, 2020. She had accomplished an extraordinary feat by orbiting, landing and crossing the Red Planet. Two years later, the Tianwen-1 probe ended.

On June 29, the Chinese probe Tianwen-1 captured the latest images of Mars. The country’s China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the mission had achieved all of its stated goals, CGTN reported.

The probe received data, including medium-resolution images, covering the entire Red Planet and conducted exploration missions with various science payloads.

The photos, shared by the space agency on social media, show the rugged terrain of the Martian landscape, including the south pole ice sheet, shield volcanoes, impact craters, and cliffs and ridges of the Valles Marineris Gorges, one of the vast canyons into the solar system, CNN reported.

Chinese orbiter Tianwen 1 completes its science mission on Mars (via Twitter)

The images were collected by the probe’s orbiter, which made 1,344 orbits around Mars, according to CNSA, taking pictures of the planet from all directions while the rover surveyed the surface.

It has also reportedly captured images of the Martian south pole, which is believed to enclose nearly all of Mars’ water. Finding water on the red planet would be the first step towards the potential for life on the surface of Mars.

Thirteen science payloads installed on board the Tianwen-1 Mars mission have collected 1,040 gigabytes of original scientific data after two years of operation and planetary exploration.

The ground crew processed the data to create standard scientific products, which were then shipped monthly to scientific research teams for further analysis and study. The relevant scientific achievements have been published in well-known specialist journals at home and abroad.

According to CNSA, in due course the scientific data will be available to researchers worldwide, including the United States NASA and Europe’s ESA. You would like to apply to study the data to advance mankind’s exploration of the universe.

China's Tianwen-1 probe comes to an end, releasing spectacular images of the entire Red Planet
China’s Tianwen-1 probe comes to an end, releasing spectacular images of the entire Red Planet

China’s exploration and achievement of Mars

Tianwen-1, China’s first Mars mission, was launched in July 2020 and carried an orbiter, a lander and a rover with 13 research devices. It landed successfully on the Martian plane Utopia Planitia in May 2021. The Chinese government declared Tianwen-1 a success at the end of 2021.

Tianwen 1 celebrated its first anniversary on the red planet in February 2022. The Tianwen 1 spacecraft entered orbit around Mars on February 10, 2021. The China National Space Administration released spectacular footage of the event shortly thereafter, showing the orbiter zipping past behind Mars while firing to slow engines and enter orbit.

In the past 706 days, the orbiter has orbited Mars 1,344 times, collecting medium-resolution visual data of the entire planet’s surface. The six-wheel rover collected data on the geological composition, atmosphere, environment and soil of Mars.

The rover, named Zhurong after the fire god of Chinese mythology, traveled more than two kilometers on Mars before going into hibernation on May 18 due to harsh winter conditions. Work is expected to resume when spring arrives in December, according to CGTN.

Landing on Mars is one of the most challenging tasks in space travel. Because Mars, unlike the moon, has an atmosphere, the landers must be protected from the heat generated during descent. Hence retrorockets are necessary as the air is too thin for a parachute alone to slow down a lander.

First country to study samples from Mars?

It is also important to note that China competes with the other world powers in space, with the rivalry intensifying with each planned mission. It was recently revealed that China is poised to become the first country in the world to return rocks from Mars to Earth, EurAsian Times reported.

A senior space official in China has confirmed that Beijing plans to bring rocks from Mars by 2031, becoming the first country to bring samples from Mars to Earth.

China’s schedule is two years ahead of the US-Europe Mars mission to bring samples to Earth. The latter announced a shift in March to take on a more demanding mission than China’s.

Mars exploration has become the cornerstone of the US-China space race, which is progressing rapidly in tandem with geopolitical rivalry on the ground. Only the United States and the former Soviet Union had successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars before China’s success with Tianwen-1.

In addition, China became the first country to attempt to send both an orbiter and rover on its first dedicated Mars mission with Tianwen-1. For its part, NASA had brought several orbiters to Mars before attempting a landing.

Alongside the competition, however, there has also been a fair amount of collaboration between CNSA and other states and space agencies. As part of a Sino-European scientific collaboration, Zhurong has also tested data transmission by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft.

In addition, CNSA also collaborated with observatories in numerous countries, including Russia, Germany, Italy, Australia and South Africa, to conduct observational studies and scientific investigations in a variety of areas, including the solar wind surrounding the Tianwen-1 orbiter solar outage and Mars Express.

The CNSA stated that such collaboration has yielded fruitful results, increased human knowledge, and positive impact on efforts to create a scientific community with a shared future for all people.

With a spate of missions planned to the Red Planet before the end of this decade, there could be room for more collaboration alongside the obvious competition.