Tianyuan 1 conceptual diagram. [CNSA]

On February 11th, the Chinese Mars probe,’Tianyuan 1’entered Mars orbit, and China emerged as a space powerhouse in name and reality. The United States, China, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are now competing to explore Mars to explore Mars, which is the second most likely to exist after Earth. China is expected to use this expedition to Mars to accelerate its space development plans, including the construction of a manned space station in the future. Let’s take a look at China’s space exploration technology and future plans that are advancing at a frightening pace that threatens the United States.

‘Tianwon 1’entering Hwaseong orbit

Hwaseong Fortress photographed by Tianyuan 1. [CNSA]

Tianyuan No. 1, a name derived from an ancient Chinese poem meaning’the search for heavenly truth’, was launched on July 23 last year in Wenchang, Hainan Province, China. It consists of a Mars orbiter, a lander, and a solar rover (exploration robot). The total weight reaches 5 tons.

Tianyuan 1 completed its first mission to settle on Mars exploration orbit after flying 475 million kilometers in seven months. China became the sixth country in the world to orbit Mars after the United States, the former Soviet Union, Europe, India and the UAE. The day before Tianyuan 1 landed on Mars orbit, the UAE spacecraft Amal first entered Mars orbit. NASA’s fifth Mars Exploration Rover Perservation also entered Mars orbit on February 17th. The reason why the three countries started exploring Mars at the same time is that the distance between Earth and Mars is now the shortest, at 55 million kilometers. If you miss this period, you will have to wait until 2022, when Mars and the distance are getting closer again.

Tianyuan 1’s mission is to conduct scientific investigations of Mars’ soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere and water. The Chinese National Port and Heaven Bureau (CNSA) explained that Tianyuan 1 plans to land the rover on the south side of Mars’ Utopia Plains by May. The Utopia Plain is a huge basin with a diameter of 3300 km, which was explored by NASA’s Viking 2 in 1976. Alfred McWynn, chief investigator of the NASA Mars rover’s HiRISE camera, told the space site’Space.com’, “It is estimated that the Utopia Plain is covered with mud, and there is a possibility that deep groundwater existed in ancient times. Place”.

The rover, which will land on Mars, will analyze Mars’ soil, rocks and atmosphere for three months. When the collected soil samples are brought to Earth by 2030, traces of life will be investigated. This rover is similar to NASA’s exploration robot Opportunity, which has been exploring Mars since 2003, and has no name yet, so it is publicly voting for name candidates in China. It weighs about 240kg and moves on 6 wheels. Electricity is supplied by a foldable solar panel, and a camera that takes pictures and searches is attached to the upper pole. It is also equipped with tools to analyze minerals and find ice.

Among them, the key tool is a ground-penetrating radar that detects geological layers at a depth of 100m. NASA’s Perseverance also has a similar tool to scan the basements of Mars’ crust for ice deposits. The rover uses equipment to uncover the geological evolution of volcanoes and to study whether oceans existed in ancient times. According to CNSA, the rover’s lifespan is 90 days.

Tianyuan 1, which operates in an extremely elliptical orbit at an altitude of 265 to 12,000 km, uses two orbital cameras and seven scientific equipment: a surface radar, a mineral spectrometer, a magnetometer, an ion and neutron analyzer, and an energy particle analyzer. Atmospheric characteristics will be observed and the surface structure will also be investigated through photographing. It is designed to operate for two years (one year in Mars time) even after launching the lander and probe.

Red planet in fierce competition

Utopian plains of Mars. [NASA]

Of the eight planets in the solar system, Mars is the closest and most similar to Earth. It was a relatively warm and humid planet, but it is believed to have changed into a desert at -80 degrees Celsius after a long period of change. Many scientists view Mars as a planet to find answers to the existence of extraterrestrial life, the origin of the solar system, and the possibility of human habitation.

According to plan, China will be the second country to conduct exploration on the surface of Mars after the United States. The former Soviet Union attempted to land on Mars but failed, and then the initiative to explore Mars was transferred to the United States. In 2011, China and Russia launched the Mars rover’Ying-Hoon 1′, but failed to get out of the Earth’s orbit. The success of this Mars mission has great strategic significance in the Xi Jinping regime. This is because Tianyuan 1 is the starting point for the goal of becoming the most powerful in space by 2045.

Another space project in China this year is the construction of a manned space station. China is gradually undertaking technology development and construction work for this. CNSA Director Jang Kejian said in a statement that “we will work with countries around the world to further advance human space exploration.”

In fact, even though Tianyuan 1 is a Chinese project, several countries have supported it. European participation is particularly noticeable. The French Institute for Astrophysics and Planetary Research (IRAP) contributed to the development of the laser spectrometer, and the French National Space Center (CNES) devised a way to maximize data quality through technical collaboration. The Austrian Academy of Sciences Space Research Center helped develop the magnetometer for Tianyuan 1.

While the United States helped the UAE’s Mars rover, there was no support for Tianwon 1. NASA’s Deep Space Network, which provides tracking and communication technology for numerous international space probes, did not support Tianyuan 1’s voyage to Mars. The United States prohibits bilateral cooperation in China’s space exploration program without parliamentary approval. Accordingly, China is using a combination of its own tracking antenna and the European Space Agency (ESA) global ground station network.

As China’s space exploration technology develops rapidly and its influence expands, attention is paid to whether the US-China rivalry will change in space development in the future. Former NASA astronaut Pamalla Mulloy said, “Attempts to exclude China from space exploration are a failed strategy,” through the political media “Polytico”. “The United States is in danger of being excluded from the space order led by China.”

Weekly Dong-A No. 1277 (p52~53)


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