China has successfully launched a Mars probe.
The middle kingdom’s previous red planet effort, 2011’s Yinghuo-1, rode on a Russian rocket that failed to leave Earth orbit and therefore did not fulfill its orbital observation mission.
For this new mission, dubbed Tianwen-1, China has used its own Long March 5 heavy lifter and packed in an orbiter, lander and rover.
China’s being typically cagey about the mission, which is believed to plan a landing with a combination of parachutes and airbags before the rover deploys a range of instruments capable of investigating Martian magnetic fields, geology and chemistry. The orbiter packs a camera capable of two-metre resolution from a height of 400kms, plus more magnetosphere-sensing kit.
If the mission succeeds, China will join the USA, Soviet Union, European Union and India as successful sponsors of Mars missions. Only the USA, Soviet Union and EU have landed rovers on the red planet.
China did not live stream the launch and its National Space Agency hardly mentions the mission on its website, never mind conduct the kind of post-launch show that the likes of SpaceX offer.
A stream of news will likely follow if the mission succeeds, as joining the very small club of nations that has successfully reached Mars’ surface would be yet another display of China’s emergence as a scientific superpower. ®