China’s first successful interplanetary mission has completed mapping the Red Planet more than a year after arriving.
The Tianwen 1 orbiter used its medium resolution camera to image the surface of March; the spacecraft also completed the science objectives assigned to the other six science payloads on board. This milestone means that the Zhurong orbiter and rover, which accompanied Tianwen 1 on the journey to Mars, have now completed their planned scientific exploration tasks, according at the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
The agency also released new images that show a series of surface features on Mars captured by Tianwen 1.
Related: China’s Tianwen-1 mission to Mars in photos
Tianwen 1 arrived on Mars in February 2021 and completed 1,344 orbits as of June 29, CNSA noted. The spacecraft first began imaging portions of the surface at Utopia Planitia, an area pre-selected for the Zhurong rover’s landing. This work led to a successful landing in May this year.
Once the rover was on the surface, the orbiter primarily provided communications relay support for Zhurong until November, when the spacecraft changed its orbit to begin his own scientific program, including surveying the planet.
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The duo will continue their work despite achieving the main goals, CNSA officials wrote. Tianwen 1 will be used later this year for an aerobraking test – using the friction of the Martian atmosphere to slow the spacecraft – in preparation for Tianwen 3, a complex Mars Sample Return Mission launch planned for 2028. (Tianwen 2 circumnavigate the Red Planet, instead collecting a sample from a near-Earth asteroid and studying a second space rock; the mission is currently targeting a 2025 launch.)
Zhurong, who walked 6,304 feet (1921.5 meters) on Mars, is currently in hibernation due to winter in the northern hemisphere of Mars. The rover is expected to resume activity at the end of the year with the onset of local spring when its sensors detect higher levels of sunlight reaching the vehicle.
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