China’s Tianwen-1 sends first image of Mars

China’s Tianwen-1 sent back its first image of Mars as the mission prepares to touch down on the Red Planet later this year, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said.

A black-and-white photo showing geological features including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris which is a vast stretch of canyons on the Martian surface was released by the Space Administration on late Friday. The photo was taken about 2.2 million kilometres from Mars and the spacecraft was now 1.1 million kilometres from the planet.

Launched in July 2020, the five-tonne Tianwen-1 includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet’s soil. China hopes to ultimately land the rover in May in Utopia, a massive impact basin on Mars which is expected to enter Mars orbit around February 10.

All systems on the Tianwen-1 probe are in “good condition,” CNSA said.

China has laid the groundwork to assemble a space station by 2022 and gain a permanent foothold in Earth orbit. However, Mars has proved a challenging target so far with most of the countries’ missions sent to the planet failed since 1960.

Tianwen-1 is not China’s first attempt to reach Mars. A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely as the launch failed.

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