China says Mars probe stable; no word on reusable spacecraft

The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover and marks China’s most ambitious Mars mission yet

China says Mars probe stable; no word on reusable spacecraft

People watch from a beach as the Long March 5 Y-4 rocket, carrying an unmanned Mars probe of the Tianwen-1 mission, takes off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, Hainan province, China, on July 23, 2020. Reuters file

Beijing, September 12

China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1, which blasted into space in July, is now more than 15 million kilometres (9 million miles) from Earth en route to the red planet, the National Space Administration said on Saturday.

The administration said Tianwen-1 was in stable condition, having completed its first mid-course orbital correction early last month. It will be about 195 million kilometres (118 million miles) from Earth when it arrives at Mars around February, having travelled 470 million kilometres (292 million miles) in all to get there.

The administration, however, has yet to release information about a mysterious reusable experimental spacecraft that returned to Earth a week ago after a two-day flight.

The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover and marks China’s most ambitious Mars mission yet as it seeks to join the US in successfully landing a spacecraft on the planet.

It was blasted into space aboard a Long March-5 on July 23 during a month when the United Arab Emirates and the US also took advantage of a shortened distance between the planets to launch similar missions.

China said the reusable spacecraft returned to its designated landing site last Sunday, calling the flight a breakthrough that will eventually provide convenient round-trip transport to space at a low cost. No other details on the mission or the configuration of the spacecraft have been released.

That is also seen as an attempt to put China on the leading edge of space flight. The US has for years been operating the secretive X-37B space plane that remains in orbit for months.

China’s military-backed space program has developed rapidly since it became just the third country after Russia and the US to put a man in space in 2003. Last year, China’s Chang'e-4 became the first spacecraft from any country to land on the far side of the moon. AP

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