The space agency in China released pictures from the first Mars spacecraft of the country captured by a short camera which shows the probe in deep space as it approaches the halfway point of the 7- months journey from Earth to the Red Planet
The photos released by the Chinese National Space Administration on Oct. 1 show the Tianwen 1 spacecraft flying through the darkness of space. Tianwen deployed a small camera to take the self-portrait as it slumped away from the mothership.
Two wide-angle camera lenses were configured to one picture per second. The images were transmitted back to Tianwen via a wireless radio link, then back to ground teams in China.
The Tianwen 1 solar array wings and dish-shaped high-gain communication antenna are prominently visible in the images. The white portion of the spacecraft is a mission entry module and heat shield containing a Chinese rover intended to land on Mars and explore the planet.
There is also a red Chinese flag visible on the spacecraft. The photos were published in conjunction with the Chinese National Day, marking the 71st anniversary of Communist rule.
The robotic Tianwen 1 spacecraft launched a Long March 5 rocket on 23 July, the most powerful launcher in China’s fleet. So far, the probe has carried out two mid-course correction maneuvers to fine-tune its path to Mars, setting up a critical burn to enter orbit around the Red Planet in February.
While in orbit, the Tianwen 1 spacecraft will survey candidate landing sites for two to three months before releasing the lander and rover to enter the Martian atmosphere.
If China pulls these feats off as expected, China will become the third country to land softly on Mars — after the Soviet Union and the United States — and the second country to drive a robotic rover on the Red Planet.
The Tianwen 1 orbiter, which will continue its mission after releasing the lander and rover, is planned to operate on Earth for at least one Martian year or around two years. The solar-powered rover, equipped with six wheels for mobility, has a life expectancy of at least 90 days, Chinese officials said.
Chinese scientists suggest that the Tianwen 1 mission will conduct a global survey of Mars, measure soil and rock composition, look for signs of submerged water ice, and study the Martian magnetosphere and atmosphere. The orbiter and the rover would also observe the Martian atmosphere and the internal structure of Mars.
The Tianwen 1 mission is one of three spacecraft currently on its way to Mars. NASA‘s Perseverance Rover and Hope Orbiter, built by the United Arab Emirates, were also launched in July and are on track to arrive on Mars in February.