With a window of opportunity to send robots to Mars opening in July, Beijing plans to launch its Tianwen-1 mission sooner rather than later, and it may come ahead of NASA’s Mars 2020 expedition.
The rocket components arrived at Wenchang May 24 following delivery to Hainan island via Yuanwang 21 and 22 cargo ships. The spacecraft arrived at the launch center April 10, after air delivery to Haikou airport.
Space officials at China’s ongoing annual political sessions in Beijing confirmed launch of the combined orbiter and rover mission for July. The specific launch date was not announced.
Previous Long March 5 launch campaigns have taken two months, meaning launch can be expected late July. The launch window is likely similar to the July 17 – Aug. 5 window for NASA’s Perseverance rover.
A successful landing would make China only the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars after the United States.
The biggest challenge is the ‘seven minutes of terror’, said Bao Weimin, chief of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) science and technology commission, at the political sessions. The phrase is borrowed from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers to describe the entry, descent and landing (EDL) process.
During this time the landing segment for the rover is required to reduce speed from 20,000 kilometers per hour (12,427 mph) to zero, according to Bao. The Tianwen-1 rover is expected to attempt EDL from orbit, whereas Perseverance will land on arrival at Mars.
The landing segment will utilize heat shielding and parachute technology derived from the Shenzhou spacecraft. Propulsion will draw from the Chang’e lunar landers.