A rover and space orbiter from China have successfully made it to Mars as part of a mission to collect information about the planet and search for signs of alien life.
The rover and orbiter make up the Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which entered the red planet’s orbit this week, and marks one of three missions to Mars from various countries this month.
The craft’s arrival comes a day after a United Arab Emirates (UAE) spaceraft successfully entered the planet’s orbit, and ahead of the arrival of NASA’s Perseverance rover on February 18.
Following a previous failed attempt to reach Mars in 2011, the arrival of Tianwen-1 is the first time China has completed the journey.
Tianwen-1 is now set to float around for a few months to allow it to send take pictures and assess the safety of the proposed landing site before the rover detaches from the craft and makes its way to the surface.
Once there, the rover is expected to spend about three months collecting information about underground water, as well as searching for signs of ancient alien life.
The rover is equipped with cameras, ground-penetrating radar, a magnetic field detector, a weather station and an instrument to measure the chemical composition of the dust and rocks, New Scientist reports, while the orbiter also carries its own scientific instruments to investigate Mars from orbit.
The rover will use a parachute, back-firing rockets and airbags to aid in its descent to the proposed landing site inside the rock-strewn Utopia Planitia. The site is the same one used by the US Viking 2 lander in 1976.
Though the solar-powered rover is only expected to operate for three months, the orbiter is set to be in action for two years.
Tianwen-1 left Earth seven months ago as China took advantage of a relatively close alignment between Mars and Earth. It left the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on Hainan Island on board a Long March-5 carrier rocket and sent back its first photo of Mars last week, while it approached from 1.4 million miles away.
The name for the craft, Tianwen, is the title of an ancient poem, and means ‘Quest for Heavenly Truth’.
As well as collecting information about the planet, the mission will be used to lay the groundwork for more complicated future endeavours, including a planned mission to bring samples from the planet back to Earth for analysis in the late 2020s.
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