WENCHANG | The fuse is in place and the engineers perform the last checks: China has attempted on Thursday to launch a probe to Mars. A mission complicated, a symbol of its ambitions in space growing in the face of the United States, in full deterioration in diplomatic relations between the two powers.
The launch is planned for the tropical island of Hainan (south), famous for its beaches and its 5 star hotels. But a weather or unfavourable winds may delay the event.
The mission Tianwen-1 (” Questions to heaven-1 “) will embark a probe composed of three elements: an orbiter observation (which will revolve around the red planet), a lander and a remote-controlled robot (in charge of analyzing the martian soil).
China is not the only one who wanted to send a probe to Mars recently. The united arab Emirates has propelled them (” Hope “) Monday, and the United States will launch a (” Mars 2020 “) on July 30.
If successful, the launch would give a boost of prestige in Beijing in the face of Washington, who has just ordered the closure of the consulate of China in Houston, the last avatar of the intense rivalry between the two Pacific giants.
The space powers are taking advantage of the current reduced distance between Earth and the red planet. It is still about 55 million miles — the equivalent of almost 5, 000 round-trip Paris-New York.
To browse through this long journey, it will take about seven months to the probe in china, which should arrive in February 2021 in the gravity field of Mars.
Tianwen-1 is “similar to the missions the u.s. Viking years 1975-1976″ in terms of ” scale and ambition “, said to AFP Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center Harvard-Smithsonian for astrophysics, in the United States.
“I don’t expect it to do something meaningful in relation to achievements in the u.s. “, he says, in reference to the multiple probes and robots sent to Mars by Nasa.
A long time away from the fierce competition space USA-USSR during the cold War, the asian country is catching up patiently for his delay.
It sent its first man into space in 2003, landings of small robots (“Rabbits jade “) on the Moon in 2013 and 2019, and has just completed in June to put in place the constellation of satellites for its navigation system, Beidou — a rival of the american GPS.
Its martian mission is the next big step of his program, which also includes the construction sector by 2022 to a space station.
“The fact that China has joined (conquest of Mars) will change the current situation, which is dominated by the United States for half a century,” points out Chen Lan, an analyst of the site GoTaikonauts.com specializing in the space program chinese.
“From the point of view of the whole of humanity, it is something positive. “
In the opinion of the experts, the experience of China on the Moon will much serve for the March.
“But the much greater distance means (…) that one must do things more slowly, because the transit time round trip of the radio signal is important,” notes Jonathan McDowell.
“And we need a station most sensitive on Earth, because the signals will be much weaker “, he says, pointing also the risk of failure during the trip.
In fact, on the quarantine missions, soviet, american, european, Japanese, or Indian launched towards the red planet since 1960, the majority has failed in the past.
In 2011, China had already tried to conquer Mars with its probe Yinghuo-1 (” Firefly-1 “) is placed in a vessel Russian. But the latter had experienced a breakdown.
“As (the new sensor) landed safely on the martian surface and returns the first image, Tianwen-1 will already be a success,” said Chen Lan.
Far to brag about, China is cautious after having recorded a couple of failures since the start of 2020, with launches misfires and the return to Earth lacked a space capsule.
The chinese media to ensure coverage modest preparations and takeoff of the rocket, Long March 5, which will take the probe to Mars should not be broadcast live on television.