China's Mars exploration goes far beyond: Chief Designer
Updated 17:57, 26-Apr-2023
Sun Ye

China released its first global map of Mars in full-color on Monday amid the country's Space Day, which is the latest among a treasure trove of findings that China's first Mars mission, Tianwen-1, has delivered.

Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer for China's Mars exploration program, told CGTN how the map came about and what China is gearing up now for deep space exploration.

Precise color of Mars

Zhang said China's first color-coded global map of Mars has come from over 10,000 images taken by Tianwen-1's orbiter, which made 284 rounds, coming up with 14,757 images. And the images were stitched together to form the complete map of Mars.

"This process has placed high demands for the orbital control," Zhang told CGTN in an interview on the sidelines of Space Day of China events.

He was confident that the colors presented in the map are precise and true to the red planet, and also confident that the new map will be instrumental for understanding and future probe of the planet.

"This full-color image of Mars provides a better quality base map not only for the following-up exploration projects and scientific research of our country, but also our colleagues'," said Zhang.

"I believe this is an important contribution Tianwen-1 has made for deep space exploration and for all human kind," he added.

Mars mission data sharing from May

China will share findings from Tianwen-1 to the world since May, according to an announcement from China National Space Administration on Monday.

"China's space industry as well as deep space exploration programs have always adhered to the principles of openness, cooperation, and sharing," said Zhang, referring to Mars data sharing as another step in China Space industry's openness.

"The scientific data from the Tianwen-1 mission will open to the world. It means that even ordinary people can access to the data," Zhang said.

Starting from May 1, the data from the Tianwen-1 mission will be released to the world on a monthly basis following the domestic distribution methods. "It's the same as the data provided to Chinese scientists," he added.

The released data includes what Tianwen-1's 13 payloads have generated, which amounts to some 1,800GB of data.

Tianwen-2 to launch in around May 2025

Zhang said Tianwen-2 would be launched somewhere around May 2025.

The mission, centering on asteroids, targets the near-Earth asteroid 2016 HO3, a celestial body recognized as a special one. The mission is expected to retrieve samples and return from the asteroid.

"It will be the first time for China to retrieve samples from interplanetary bodies," said Zhang. "After completing this main task, we will strive to explore a main-belt comet."

Zhang said the mission requires Tianwen-2 to attach and fly with the asteroid, and then retrieve samples.

"Therefore, the key technology required from this mission is unique: we want to solve questions about more fine-tuned technology in deep space exploration," Zhang said.

He added that the Tianwen-3 and Tianwen-4 missions are set to follow these tasks.

Mars rover Zhurong yet to wake up

Zhang also said the Zhurong rover, which went into hibernation almost a year ago, has yet to wake up.

"We have not had any communication from the rover since it entered hibernation," said Zhang. "We are monitoring it every day and believe it has not woken up because the sunlight has not yet reached the minimum level for power generation."

Zhang said that despite a design lifetime of 90 Martian days, the rover had already completed 358 Martian days of exploration before it hibernated, far exceeding the design goals.

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