China's first-ever probe to Mars — called the Tianwen-1 — prepared for rover landing on the Red Planet on Wednesday. The spacecraft trimmed its orbit around Mars in order to examine the best potential landing regions.
This makes China the sixth space-capable entity to successfully send a probe to the Red Planet after the U.S., the Soviet Union, the European Space Agency, India, and the United Arab Emirates.
Tianwen-1 is now in a position to begin imaging and collecting data on potential landing sites for the mission's rover. The rover will then attempt to touch down in May or June.
Tianwen-1's new position takes the spacecraft as close as 170 miles (280 kilometers) to Mars and as far away as 37,000 miles (59,000 km). The position will allow the orbiter to capture clear images of potential landing sites.
This will hopefully also lead to an understanding of local conditions in order to allow for a safe landing. The rover is solar-powered and can therefore suffer during a dust storm.
It should be noted that NASA's Opportunity rover lost contact in 2018 because of such a storm. The Tianwen-1 team is doing everything in its power to ensure that such an incident is not repeated.
China's Tianwen-1 orbiter weighed roughly 11,000 lbs (5,000 kg) upon launching — accounting for both the orbiter and the lander-rover mix. Now that Tianwen-1 has reached Mars, each of the craft will serve different purposes, evaluating Mars in several unique ways.
The orbiter will use a high-resolution camera and serve as a communications waypoint between the rover and mission control in China. The rover, on the other hand, features a wide array of equipment — including climate and geology instruments, cameras, and radar — which will seek out hidden reservoirs of water under the ancient surface of Mars.