China’s first fully homegrown Mars mission is on its way to the Red Planet.
The Tianwen-1 mission launched atop a Long March 5 rocket from Hainan Island’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Center this morning (July 23) at 12:41 a.m. EDT (0441 GMT).
Tianwen-1 consists of an orbiter and a lander/rover duo, a combination of craft that had never before launched together toward the Red Planet. The ambition of Tianwen-1 is especially striking given that it’s China’s first stab at a full-on Mars mission. (The nation did launch a Red Planet orbiter called Yinghuo-1 in November 2011, but the spacecraft flew piggyback with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission. And that launch failed, leaving the probes trapped in Earth orbit.)
“Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter,” team members wrote in a recent Nature Astronomy paper outlining the mission’s main objectives. “No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough.”
If all goes according to plan, Tianwen-1 will arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. The lander/rover pair will touch down on the Martian surface two to three months later somewhere within Utopia Planitia, a large plain in the planet’s Northern Hemisphere that also welcomed NASA’s Viking 2 lander in 1976.