A Chinese Mars spacecraft, Tianwen-1, successfully reached orbit at the Red Planet on Wednesday morning, as the second of three nations’ Mars missions that launched in July.
Tianwen-1 is an orbiter that will study the Martian atmosphere, and it carries a rover that China plans to send to the planet’s surface in May.
China’s arrival at Mars follows a successful United Arab Emirates, the Hope probe, which arrived there Tuesday morning and also achieved a successful orbit.
NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, is planned to arrive at Mars on Feb. 18.
Aerospace scientists and Mars experts around the world are watching the Chinese mission for new information about the planet, said Jeremy Riousset, assistant professor of planetary sciences and aerospace at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida.
“All three missions are of great interest,” Riousset said. “For the Chinese mission, they remain quite secretive, so it’s a little more difficult to assess their chances of success.”
Achieving a good orbit around Mars is extremely difficult, Riousset said, but landing a rover on Mars will be even more difficult. Part of the challenge is that everything must happen robotically because of an 11-minute delay in communications with Mars.
Achieving a good orbit at Mars is “never something that’s going to be low-risk or easy” said Zachary Putnam, assistant professor of aerospace at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. SOVEREIGNPH