China’s Tianwen-1 Spacecraft Snaps First Image of Mars

A black and white image of Mars from Tianwen 1, the first snapshot of Chinese craftsmanship. China National Space Administration

Last summer, Earth and Mars entered a time when they are closest together and spacecraft can follow a path known as the Hohmann transfer orbit. This is the most efficient way to travel between the two planets, which is why three missions to Mars started around the same time – NASA’s Perseverance rover, the UAE’s Hope mission, and China’s Tianwen-1.

Now all of these ships are approaching the red planet, and China’s vehicles have sent back their first image of Mars.

Just before arriving on Mars, Tianwen-1 made its fourth orbital correction to make sure it was in the right place to approach Mars. “The robotic vehicle fired one of its thrusters at 8 p.m. to perform an orbital correction and ensure it was flying in the correct direction to the gravitational field of Mars,” said a statement from the China National Space Administration (CNSA). “Tianwen 1 flew 197 days and more than 465 million kilometers on its journey to the planet. It is now approximately 184 million km from Earth and 1.1 million km from Mars. “

The image captured by the vehicle is in beautiful definition, despite being captured from over 1.4 million miles away. You can see some key features of Mars geography, such as the Meridiani Planum and the Schiaparelli crater on the right of the picture (on the lower side of the large white patch) and the Valles Marineris gorges (the darker patch in the center left of the picture).

The next phase of the mission is braking to slow the vehicle down and allow Mars to gravity capture it and put it into orbit around the planet. Then the preparations for the landing of the rover of the Tianwen-1 mission begin. Once the vehicle enters orbit, it will map the landing site below before attempting a landing in May.

“The ultimate goal of the mission is to soft land a rover in the southern portion of Mars’ Utopia Planitia – a large plain within Utopia, the largest recognized impact basin in the solar system – in May for scientific research,” said CNSA.

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