China in the assault of March: the asian giant has launched Thursday a probe that will travel a long journey to the red planet, in full diplomatic rivalry and technology with the United States.
The craft was powered by a rocket Long March 5, which took off in a thick cloud of smoke from the center of launch of Wenchang, on the tropical island of Hainan (south), found a team of the AFP.
The probe will not happen before 2021. She will first perform in any seven months of the long trip Earth-Mars. The distance varies but is a minimum of 55 million kilometers — that is, 1 400 times around the world.
Ambitious, China is hoping to do during this first attempt at independent almost everything that the United States has carried out in several mars missions since the 1960s.
This is to say placing a probe in orbit, place a lander on Mars, and then bring out a small remote-controlled robot so that it conducts analysis at the surface.
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.
“This is clearly a landmark event for China. This is the first time that she ventured far away in the solar system”, tells the AFP Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center Harvard-Smithsonian for astrophysics, in the United States.
“If it succeeds, this would be the first time in history that a lander and a remote-controlled robot non-americans to work on Mars,” points out Chen Lan, an analyst for the site GoTaikonauts.com specializing in the space program chinese.
The mission was named “Tianwen-1” (“Questions to heaven-1”), in homage to a poem of ancient China, which treats of astronomy.
The robot weighs more than 200 pounds, it is equipped with four solar panels and its six wheels, and will be operational in three months.
Among its missions are to: conduct analyses of the soil, the atmosphere, take photos, or even contribute to the mapping of the red planet.
China already has experience in the matter, since it was made to roll two small robots on the Moon, with the “Rabbits of the jade 1 and 2 — deposited, respectively, in 2013 and 2019.
The rovers “was a good workout” since the land on the moon and mars, “are generally similar”, according to Jonathan McDowell.
But the distance from the Earth to Mars is 140 times more important than the journey the Earth and the Moon.
Consequence: a greater slowness in the telecommunications and a longer trip during which failures can occur, he says.
The asian country is not the only one to take advantage of the current reduced distance Earth-Mars to propel a probe to the red planet: the united arab Emirates have launched their Monday and the United States must do the same on July 30.
Competition China-USA, which evokes the space race between the USSR and the United States at the time of the cold War.
The goals of the China with this mission?
“The same as those of many space-faring nations,” says the AFP, Carter Palmer, an expert in the space to the american firm Forecast International. “Space exploration is a source of national pride. The ambition is also to improve the knowledge of humanity vis-à-vis March.”
Without the Russians
China is investing billions of euros in its space program, in order to catch up with Europe, Russia and the United States.
It sent its first astronaut into space in 2003.
China has also launched satellites for itself or for the account of other countries. She has just completed in June the constellation of its navigation system, Beidou — a rival of the american GPS.
The asian giant also plans to assemble a large space station in 2022. And he hopes to send men to the Moon within ten years.
China had already tried to send a probe to Mars in 2011 during a joint mission with Russia. But the attempt had failed, and Beijing had then decided to continue the adventure alone.
Lucky will she be this time?
“It is very ambitious for a first try. To such a point that I will be surprised if the mission is a total success,” says Jonathan McDowell.
“It is 50-50,” judge Chen Lan. “China may fail this time. But it will succeed one day. Because it has the will, the determination, and sufficient financial and human resources to achieve that.”