China's first Mars probe Tianwen-1 completes mid-course correction

By Deng Xiaoci Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/21 9:49:56


China's Tianwen-1 Mars probe successfully completed its orbital correction for a second time as of 11:00 pm Sunday Beijing time, after 60 days into its journey to the Red Planet, Global Times learned from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Monday morning.

So far, the spacecraft has travelled some 160 million kilometers, bringing it some 19 million kilometers away from Earth, CNSA said in a statement. 

Four 120N engines were simultaneously started and ran for 20 seconds to pull off the second orbital correction, which in return verifies the capability of the engines, CNSA said.

The probe is in good working condition, and ground monitoring and communication stations are getting good tracks of the spacecraft.

"On its way to Mars, the Tianwen-1 probe will be affected by the gravitation of Mars and some planets in the solar system, which will bring changes in flight path and speed," an insider with the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center told the Global Times on Monday.

The orbital correction aims to fix such deviations before they gradually grow from minor to major, ensuring that Tianwen-1 adheres to its planned orbit, the Beijing center explained.

The orbit correction also ran tests on the engine condition, which turned out to be normal, they said.

The flight form of the spacecraft and the solar panel onboard are also undergoing constant adjustments as Tianwen-1 goes further from the Sun. The ground monitoring and control team adjusts the angle of the panels and the spacecraft flight form to make sure there is enough energy supply and that the probe body doesn't get over-heated.

The full unfolding of the solar panel will take place after the second orbit correction for the Tianwen-1 probe, during which its flight form will be adjusted accordingly, the center revealed.

Tianwen-1, China's first Mars probe, made its first orbital correction on August 2, when the probe had traveled for approximately 230 hours, and was some 3 million kilometers away from Earth.

The mid-course correction is undertaken to ensure that the spacecraft sticks precisely to the designated and theoretical flight orbit and to correct track deviation caused by various factors.

According to CNSA, the extent of the second correction is very small, as the launch and first correction work was extremely surgical. 

Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of China's Tianwen-1 Mars exploration program, told the media on Friday at the 2020 China Space Conference that the entire journey of the Tianwen-1 Mars probe will last approximately 202 days, and the probe will fly 474.4 million kilometers before reaching Mars.

China successfully launched the probe via a Long March-5 carrier rocket from Wenchang Space Launch Center in South China's Hainan Province on July 23.


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