China has entered the Mars research part of the space race, successfully testing a lander in the atmospheric conditions of the red planet on Thursday 14 November. This trial run is a critical step in enabling the craft to be sent on a mission next year.
On Thursday 14 November, China carried out a full-scale test of the lander which is set to be sent next year on a seven-month voyage to Mars. The lander – shaped like a giant four-legged spider – came down on a base near to Beijing while attached to cables, in conditions similar to the gravity of the red planet.
With journalists and foreign diplomats in attendance, the craft successfully carried out a manoeuvre "requiring it to avoid obstacles" before moving down to the ground. The test constitutes "a significant part" of the Mars mission according to Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Collecting data to increase our knowledge of Mars
While Zhang Kejian stated that the programme, which began in 2016, was running "seamlessly", the date of the launch from the tropical island of Hainan (to the south of the country) has not yet been announced. The voyage is set to last seven months, with the landing taking a mere seven minutes according to Zhang Rongqiao who is the director of the Mars programme. It will, however, be the "most delicate phase of the entire mission".
The craft is set to be launched by a Long March 5 rocket and will carry 13 science payloads, including six rovers, the CNSA said back in 2017. "The loads will be used to collect data on the environment, the morphology, surface, structure and atmosphere of Mars", Zhang Rongqiao explained at the time.
Massive investment from China into space research
Having become the second largest economic power in the world, China is now looking to make up for lost time in the space race with the USA, and is now spending more on its space programmes than Russia and Japan, with a budget of 8.4 billion dollars in 2017 according to the OECD.
Earlier this year, the Asian superpower became the first country to land a probe on the dark side of the Moon, and is also looking to put a major operational space station into orbit around 2022. This would then become the only station in space after the planned withdrawal in 2024 of the ISS – a joint venture between the USA, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.
Cover image : ColiN00B/Pixabay
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