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China to launch Tianwen-1 Mars mission

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China to launch Tianwen-1 Mars mission

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Photo: Reuters/Stringer

China will today launch its Tianwen-1 Mars lander aboard a Long March 5 rocket, following Sunday’s launch of the UAE’s Mars-orbiting satellite.

All Earth-to-Mars launches take place over a short period every 26 months, when the elliptical orbits of the two planets are closest to each other; if a mission misses this narrow window, it must postpone its launch for more than two years. Tianwen-1 represents tremendous technological progress for the Chinese space program as it would make China only the third nation to successfully land on Mars, after the US and Russia. Should the mission prove a success, Tianwen-1 will use its instruments to map Martian terrain, find subsurface ice and characterise ground resources for future missions.

China has invested tremendous resources to challenge the traditional space dominance of its geopolitical rivals and President Xi Jinping has described the program as part of the nation’s “great rejuvenation.” China is currently preparing a 2023 Chang’e lunar mission, a 2022 Zhenghe asteroid sample retrieval mission and the launch of its manned space station “Tianhe” later this year. With this increasingly ambitious launch cadence, Beijing is looking to provide an alternative space infrastructure for international research agencies and enhance the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy and reputation, both domestically and abroad.

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