The Chinese Space Agency has released images taken by a small camera that was taken out of the country’s first spacecraft bound for Mars, showing the probe in deep space as it approached halfway through its seven-month journey from Earth to the Red Planet.
Pictures released by the Chinese National Space Administration on October 1 show the Tianwen 1 spacecraft traveling through the blackness of space. Tianwen deployed a small camera to take a selfie as it collapsed away from the mother ship.
Two wide-angle lenses on the deployable camera are programmed into one image every second. The pictures were sent back to Tianwen via a wireless radio link, and then the ground teams were reconnected in China.
In the pictures, the wings of the solar matrix of Tianwen 1 and the high-gain communication antenna in the shape of a dish are prominently shown. The white portion of the spacecraft is the mission entry unit and heat shield, which contains a Chinese rover designed to land on Mars and explore the surface.
There is also a red Chinese flag visible on the spacecraft. The photos were released in conjunction with the Chinese National Day holiday, marking the 71st anniversary of Communist rule there.
The Tianwen 1 robotic spacecraft launched on July 23 the Long March 5 missile, the most powerful launcher in the Chinese fleet. So far, the probe has performed two mid-course correction maneuvers to set its trajectory towards Mars, and prepare for a critical burn to enter orbit around the Red Planet in February.
Once in orbit, the Tianwen 1 spacecraft will scan the candidate landing sites for two to three months before launching the probe and the rover to enter the Martian atmosphere.
If China accomplishes these feats according to plan, it would make China the third country to make a smooth landing on Mars – after the Soviet Union and the United States – and the second country to drive a robotic vehicle on the Red Planet.
The orbiter Tianwen 1, which will continue its mission after the launch of the probe and rover, is designed to operate for at least one Martian year, or about two years on Earth. Chinese officials said the six-wheeled solar-powered rover has an average life expectancy of at least 90 days.
Chinese scientists say the Tianwen 1 mission will conduct a global survey of Mars, measure soil and rock composition, look for signs of buried water ice, and study the Martian magnetosphere and atmosphere. The probe and spacecraft will also monitor Mars weather and probe the inner structure of Mars.
The Tianwen 1 mission is one of three spacecraft currently on its way to Mars. The NASA rover and the UAE-developed Al-Amal Orbiter were launched in July and are on their way to Mars in February.
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