China's first Mars probe enters Red Planet's orbit
By Zheng Yibing, Cao Qingqing
China's first Mars probe Tianwen-1 has successfully entered the orbit of the Red Planet on Wednesday after a crucial braking system was activated to decelerate the spacecraft's speed, enabling it to be captured by Mars gravity, according to China National Space Administration (CNSA).
A 3,000-newton orbital control engine on the orbiter was activated at 7:52 p.m. Beijing time and worked about 15 minutes, sending the probe into an elliptical orbit of Mars.
That means Tianwen-1 has become China's first artificial satellite of Mars and achieved the first goal of its three-step mission – orbiting, landing and roving.
The orbiter's scientific exploration includes a medium-resolution camera, a high-resolution camera, a magnetometer, a mineral spectrum analyzer, an ion and neutral particle analyzer, and an energetic particle detector. The equipment will start working gradually to conduct a comprehensive survey of Mars.
The administration said that the probe's systems are in good condition and will later shift orbits and begin to detect the preliminary landing areas.
The soft landing on the Red Planet could happen around May and June.
The Tianwen-1 was launched by a Long March-5 heavy-lift carrier rocket on July 23 last year. It has flown for 202 days and covered about 475 million kilometers on its journey to Mars.
During the journey, it has conducted a deep-space orbital maneuver and four mid-course corrections to make sure it heads in the right direction to Mars.
It's now about 192 million kilometers away from the Earth. The vast distance between Earth and Tianwen-1 means a communications delay of around 10.7 minutes.