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China’s Tianwen-1 Spacecraft Enters Mars ‘Parking Orbit’

FILE - The Tianwen-1 probe en route to Mars. China said on Feb. 24, 2021, that its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary parking orbit around Mars in anticipation of landing a rover on the red planet in the coming months.

China’s state media reported Wednesday the country’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary “parking orbit’ around the planet Mars, where it will stay for about three months before attempting to land a rover on the surface.

China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the spacecraft executed a maneuver to adjust its orbit early Wednesday Beijing time.

The Tianwen-1 probe includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover, and while in orbit, the space agency said the probe will be mapping the planet’s surface and collecting additional data, particularly about the prospective landing site for the rover.

The deputy chief designer of the probe, Tan Zhiyun, told China Central Television (CCTV) the Tianwen-1 will take pictures of the prospective landing zone and judge the topography and potential for dust storms and other factors that will help scientists prepare for a safe landing in May or June.

The spacecraft began orbiting Mars on Feb. 10 after a roughly seven-month journey from Earth. An orbiter from the United Arab Emirates arrived one day earlier, and last week, the U.S. space agency NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the planet.

All three of the missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that happens only once every two years.

Tianwen-1 represents the most ambitious mission yet for China’s secretive, military-linked space program that first put an astronaut in orbit around Earth in 2003 and last year brought moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.