China is preparing to land its unmanned robot on Mars

Beijing | China was preparing Friday to try to land a small, unmanned robot on Mars, a particularly sensitive operation that testifies to Beijing’s increasingly bold space ambitions.

Amidst the diplomatic and technological rivalry with the United States, the Asian giant launched the “Tianwen-1” probe in July last year.

It took the spacecraft seven months to travel 55 million kilometers from the Red Planet – 1,400 times around the world.

The probe, which reached Mars orbit in February, consists of three components, including the probe, which is supposed to land in the next few hours.

The unit should allow a remote-controlled robot, “Zhurong” (the god of fire in Chinese mythology), to go out to analyze the surface.

No exact timeline has been reported from an official source. The Chinese Space Agency (CNSA) had simply mentioned a possible window between mid-May and mid-June.

But speculation was alive on Friday after a prominent spaceflight specialist announced that the unmanned robot would hit Mars on Saturday morning.

Yi Beijian, head of the Lunar Exploration Program, plans to land the spacecraft at 7:11 a.m. on Saturday Beijing time (11:11 p.m. GMT Friday), according to media reported Friday and during a conference the day before. ..

“Zhurong” is supposed to be in operation for a period of three months.

In the event of a successful landing, it should enable the study of the Martian environment and the analysis of rock formation.

Landing on the Red Planet is particularly complex, and several European, Soviet and American missions have failed in the past.

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The “Tianwen-1” mission sent its first image of Mars in February: a black and white image showing Earth shapes such as the Schiaparelli Crater and the Valles Marineris valley system.

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