The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has successfully landed and sent the rover component of its Mars mission to Tianwen-1. The lander and rover securely landed on Mars during the early hours of May 15, China time, as per China’s state media. The rover, named Zhurong, was brought online in the following days, and its first pictures were released by the CNSA on May 19.
The landing makes China the third country to achieve a soft landing on the Red Planet, after the Soviet Union and the United States, and second after the US to land and deploy a rover on the Martian surface. The CNSA additionally accomplished another milestone in planetary exploration—having a successful orbiter, lander, and rover as a feature of the organization’s first mission to Mars, a tremendous scientific and technical accomplishment.
Tianwen-1 additionally sent a small camera during its cruise to Mars to take a self-picture of the rocket on the way to its final destination, another first. The ejected camera took a few photos of its parent ship and transmitted them to Tianwen-1 via radio, which was then sent back to Earth by the spaceship.
Zhurong is somewhat bigger than the exceptionally successful Spirit and Opportunity missions launched by NASA in 2003 and is of a comparable design. It has six articulated wheels to overcome small obstacles on the Martian surface, is powered by solar panels, and communicates back to Earth using Tianwen-1 as a relay (with Europe’s Mars Express as a backup). The rover is scheduled for 90 sols (Martian days) of operations, and one expectation for longevity and legacy to coordinate or exceed that of its US-built predecessors.
The Tianwen-1 mission (“heavenly questions”) was launched last July on a Long March 5 heavy launch vehicle, which has an equivalent thrust-to-weight ratio to the Soviet Proton-M, the European Ariane 5, and the American Delta IV. The mission’s progressing achievements are a credit to the hundreds of operators in China, as well as those helping from Argentina, Austria, France, and the European Space Agency.
The probes were launched during a similar launch window utilized by the United Arab Emirates Hope spacecraft and NASA’s Perseverance rover, a space flight way that takes advantage of the orbits of Earth and Mars to minimize the fuel expected to arrive at the fourth planet from the Sun. Every one of the three missions showed up at Mars this previous February within a few weeks of one another.
Rather than promptly deploying the rover, be that as it may, the controllers of the Tianwen-1 elected to use the orbiter to all the more cautiously map out potential landing sites for Zhurong. The landing itself took nine minutes, and as is characteristic for Mars missions, as a result of the immense distance between Earth and Mars, must be totally automated. Comments from CNSA authorities show the rover is operating as designed.
The science goals for both the rover and orbiter are extensive and ambitious. Like all Mars missions, the general objectives are a deeper understanding of Mars’ geographical history and progressing looks for indications of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, both Tianwen-1 and Zhurong will use a combined 13 cameras and other scientific instruments to study the chemical composition of the Martian soil and atmosphere, get itemized topological characteristics of dry riverbeds, volcano reliefs, glaciers, and areas where wind erosion is prominent, analyze the climate and magnetic field of the planet, and use ground-penetrating radar from the two vehicles to map subsurface water ice.
The landing site is in the southern portion of Utopia Planitia, a massive basin in Mars’ northern hemisphere that is thought to have once been underwater billions of years prior. Without a doubt, information from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter uncovered in 2016 that there is a lot of ice under the surface—probably as much water as contained in Lake Superior. One of the objectives of Zhurong and Tianwen-1 will be to all the more precisely map this ice.
There are numerous other intriguing geological features in the region, including cone-shaped features that were likely formed from volcano lava, or even mud. On Earth, so-called mud volcanoes are related to methane production by bacteria. While that is considerably more unlikely on Mars, researchers from both China and the United States have expressed a lot of excitement for a very close investigation by Zhurong of these cones, which have so far just been imaged from orbit.
Obviously, such scientific and technological achievements by China carry with them a lot of geopolitical baggage. After the release of the first Zhurong photographs, NASA Administrator (and previous US Senator from Florida) Bill Nelson offered, “Congratulations to the China National Space Administration on receiving the first images from the Zhurong Mars rover!” The statement continued, “I look forward to future international discoveries, which will help inform and develop the capabilities needed to land human boots on Mars.”
His tone was much more confrontational toward China, in any case, in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s commerce, justice, and science subcommittee that happened simultaneously NASA released his official statement. “[China] is a very aggressive competitor,” he proclaimed. “They’re going to be landing humans on the moon. That should tell us something about our need to get off our duff and get our Human Landing System program going vigorously.”
Underlying such comments are stresses that China’s rocket technology could eclipse that of the United States, which is seen by the Biden administration as a mortal threat to its proceeded with military development against China in the Indo-Pacific region. This “pivot to Asia” started under the Obama administration and was proceeded under Trump as an attempt by American capitalism to force China to bow to the “international rules-based order,” the post-World War II economic and security system dominated by the US government.
Also, the Space Force made by then-US President Donald Trump is straightforwardly pointed toward guaranteeing US military dominance in all spheres, particularly outer space. The US has additionally reported plans for a space station orbiting the Moon, which would inherently militarize not just orbits around the Earth and Moon, yet in addition the space lanes between them.
While there is no concrete proof that China is using its space program to develop new military hardware, the launch vehicles, guidance systems, and communications networks expected to land on Mars have clear potential military spin-offs. Furthermore, these technologies are being additionally created. China has declared a lot more Mars missions sooner rather than later, as well as others to the Moon, including lunar missions that might be crewed.
The nation has additionally launched the first module of its own space station, the Tiangong, which will be about the size of the decommissioned Soviet/Russian space station Mir. It did so segregated from virtually every other nation’s space program, especially the US-led International Space Station. Under 2011 legislation, NASA is forbidden from any technology or information trades with China. Its sponsor, Republican Frank Wolf, pronounced, “We don’t want to give [China] the opportunity to take advantage of our technology, and we have nothing to gain from dealing with them.”
In a rational world, such comments would be laughed at as parochial, best case scenario, on the off chance that they were seen by any means, dominated by celebrations at the CNSA’s victories. The organization’s further missions would not be hidden behind a cover of mystery cast by the Chinese government and saw with hostility by the American government, yet completely incorporated into an internationally planned space program to get Mars and the Solar System overall.
Such a vision of unified space travel, be that as it may, won’t ever show as long as the world is split into rival capitalist nation-states.