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China launches unmanned Mars mission


China on Thursday successfully launched an unmanned probe to Mars. It is the first independent mission of China to another planet.

The country’s largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5Y-4, blasted off with the probe at 12.41 pm from Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.

The mission is being seen as China’s bid for global leadership in space and reflects its ambition and technological prowess. The probe is expected to reach Mars in February. It will deploy a rover to explore the red planet for 90 days.

The name of the mission has been given Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven”—the name of a poem written two millennia ago. If the mission becomes successful, it will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission.

A spokesperson for the mission Liu Tongjie said there are challenges ahead for the mission, especially when the spacecraft nears Mars. The spokesperson said it is critical for the spacecraft to decelerate when it arrives in the vicinity of Mars.

Tongjie said “If the deceleration process is not right, or if flight precision is not sufficient, the probe would not be captured by Mars,” he said, referring to gravity on Mars taking the craft down to the surface.

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He added the probe would orbit Mars for about two-and-a-half months and look for an opportunity to enter its atmosphere and make a soft landing.

“Entering, deceleration and landing (EDL) is a very difficult (process). We believe China’s EDL process can still be successful, and the spacecraft can land safely,” Liu Tongjie said.

Notably, there are eight spacecraft that are either orbiting the red planet or on its surface, with several other missions under the pipeline. The eight spacecraft includes those from India, the US and European nations.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had launched a Mars mission on Monday. The United States also has plans to send a probe in the coming months that will deploy a rover called Perseverance. It is likely to be the biggest, most advanced, and the heaviest vehicle sent to Mars by NASA.

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