China launches first independent rocket to Mars in space race with US

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The country became one of three, after the US and UAE, to use a launch window to blast off to Mars. China’s biggest rocket carried the launder into space, jetting off from Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.

The spacecraft is expected to reach Mars in February when it will attempt to send a rover, Tianwen-1, to explore the red planet for 90 days.

If the journey is successful, China will be the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission.

The launch is the first time China has independently sent a mission to another planet.

In 2011, China attempted a mission but relied on a Russian rocket.

This attempt did not make it to Mars as it failed to escape Earth’s orbit.

Liu Tongjie, spokesman for the mission, said there will be challenges ahead as the spacecraft nears Mars.

He said: “When arriving in the vicinity of Mars, it is very critical to decelerate.

“If the deceleration process is not right, or if flight precision is not sufficient, the probe would not be captured by Mars.”

Mr Tongjie said the new probe would orbit Mars for about two and a half months.

He said the probe will search for an opportunity to enter its atmosphere and make a soft landing.

Mr Tongjie added how “entering, deceleration and landing is a very difficult” process.

He said: “We believe China’s EDL process can still be successful, and the spacecraft can land safely.”

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Eight spacecrafts are either orbiting Mars or on its surface with other missions underway or planned from America, Europe and India.

On Monday, the United Arab Emirates launched a mission to Mars.

The country’s orbiter will study the planet’s atmosphere.

The US plans to send a probe in the next few months that will deploy a rover called Perseverance.

The American rover is the biggest, heaviest, most advanced vehicle sent to Mars by Nasa.

China’s probe carries several scientific instruments to observe Mars’ atmosphere and surface.

It will be searching for signs of water and ice.

In 2011, China made a bid with Russia.

But the Russian spacecraft carrying the probe failed to exit Earth’s orbit and came apart over the Pacific Ocean.

The EU-Russian ExoMars planned launch for the red planet was postponed for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic and technical issues.

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