An unmanned Chinese spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around Mars after a six-and-a-half month journey from earth.
The robotic probe initiated and completed a 15-minute burn of its thrusters, the China National Space Administration said in a statement, slowing the spacecraft to a speed at which it could be captured by the pull of Mars’ gravity.
In about three months, the Tianwen-1 will attempt to send a landing capsule carrying a 240-kilogram rover in a rapid seven-minute descent onto a massive plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars known as Utopia Planitia.
If the landing is successful, the solar-powered rover will explore the Martian surface for 90 days, studying its soil and seeking signs of ancient life, including any sub-surface water and ice using a ground-penetrating radar.
Tianwen-1 or “Questions to Heaven” – the name of a Chinese poem written two millennia ago – is China’s first independent mission to the planet after a probe co-launched with Russia failed to leave the earth’s orbit in 2011.
The probe is one of three to reach Mars in February.
The Hope spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates successfully entered the planet’s orbit on Wednesday (Australian time).
Hope will not make a landing but will orbit Mars gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.
In the US’ most ambitious Mars mission, the one-tonne Perserverance probe is expected to arrive on February 18.
It will immediately attempt a landing in a rocky depression with precipitous cliffs called Jezero Crater.