hinese scientists launched the country’s first Mars orbiter and rover mission Tianwen-1 on July 23. The mission will reach Mars after a seven-month journey along the Hohmann Transfer Orbit, an Earth-to-Mars transfer orbit proposed by German engineer Hohmann in 1925 to enable an orbiter to reach Mars with minimal energy.
Launched from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in South China’s Hainan Province atop a Long March V rocket, Tianwen-1 consists of an orbiter and lander/rover duo. The lander is a delivery system for the rover, and is expected to land on the Utopia Planitia, a plain in the red planet’s northern hemisphere around two to three months after arriving in orbit in February 2021. The rover, which weighs 240 kilograms, will map Mars’ morphology and geology, study the surface soil and water-ice distribution, analyze the composition of the surface, measure the environment and explore the planet’s electromagnetic and gravitational fields. The orbiter will then go into a polar elliptical orbit around Mars, and will collect its own data, as well as relaying data from the rover.
The name Tianwen means “Questions to heaven,” and was taken from the title of a poem by Qu Yuan who lived at the end of the Warring States period (476-221 BCE).