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China succeeds in landing robot on Mars




A faultless: China succeeded this Saturday in landing a small remote-controlled robot on the surface of Mars, a first for the Asian country during a particularly delicate mission. “The Tianwen-1 lander successfully landed in the predefined area” on Mars with the robot “Zhurong” on board, state television CCTV reported, which broadcast a special edition titled “Nihao Huoxing” (Hello Mars ), and specified that a “signal” had been received on Earth.

The landing took place at 7:18 a.m. Beijing time (11:18 p.m. GMT Friday) in an area of ​​the red planet called “Utopia Planitia”, a vast plain located in the northern hemisphere of Mars, the agency said. Chinese Space (CNSA).

Landing on the Red Planet is far from easy: in the past, many European, Soviet and American missions have failed.

In 2011, China did try to send a probe to Mars, during a joint mission with Russia. But the attempt had collapsed and Beijing has since resolved to continue the adventure alone.

The Chinese thus launched in July 2020 from Earth their uninhabited mission “Tianwen-1”, named after the probe sent into space. This is made up of three elements: an orbiter (which revolves around Mars), a lander (which has landed on the red planet) and on board a remote-controlled robot, “Zhurong”.

In February, “Tianwen-1” had settled in Martian orbit and had managed to take pictures of the red planet. Early Saturday, China managed to land the lander, which should allow the robot “Zhurong” to come out. Carrying out these three operations during an inaugural mission to Mars is a world first. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his congratulations.

Radar, lasers and solar panels

For this first attempt alone, the ambitious Chinese wanted to do everything the Americans have achieved in several Martian missions since the 1960s.

The landing on Mars was a critical moment.

Given the “very important distance” with the Earth, “Tianwen-1” had to “land on its own” without outside help, underlines Chen Lan, analyst of the site. Go-Taikonauts.com, specializing in the Chinese space program.

The red planet is located some 200 million kilometers from Earth, according to Chinese media, and a signal takes “18 minutes” to reach Earth. Consequence: “If there was a problem, no one on Earth could have helped him,” Chen Lan told AFP.

Weighing around 240 kg, “Zhurong” is to conduct soil and atmosphere analyzes, take photos and map the red planet. China already has experience in this area: it rolled two small robots on the Moon, the “Jade Rabbits” 1 and 2 – deposited in 2013 and 2019 respectively.

The mission to Mars must also look for possible signs of past life.

“Zhurong” is equipped with solar panels for its electricity supply and is supposed to be operational for three months. The robot is also equipped with cameras, radar and lasers which will allow it in particular to study its environment and analyze the composition of Martian rocks.

He arrived on the Red Planet a few months after Perseverance, the rover from NASA, the US space agency, which landed on Mars on February 18 with the mission of looking for proof of past life.

The name “Zhurong” was chosen after an online survey and refers to the god of fire in Chinese mythology. A symbolism justified by the name in Chinese of Mars: “huoxing”, literally “the planet of fire”.

All-round space ambitions

China is investing billions of euros in its space program, in order to catch up with Europe, Russia and the United States. It sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. China is also launching satellites for itself or on behalf of other countries. And in 2019, she landed a craft on the far side of the Moon – a world first. Last year, samples of the Moon were brought back to Earth.

The Asian giant also plans to assemble a large space station by 2022. And he hopes to send men to the moon within ten years. The first of three elements of its space station was launched in late April.

To finalize its construction, China should launch around ten missions, some of which are manned. No precise timetable is yet known.

The “Tianwen-1” mission sent its first image of Mars in February: a black and white photo showing landforms like the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris canyon system.

Mars has proven to be an elusive goal, with most missions since 1960, sent by Russia, Europe, Japan, and India, failing.

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