Beijing, May 15 (EFE).- A Chinese rover on Saturday landed on a vast plain on Mars known as Utopia Planitia, making China the third country in the world to achieve the feat after the United States, the Chinese National Space Administration said.
The combined lander-rover separated from special Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1, which has been circling in the red planet’s orbit since February, at 4 am Chinese time and descended towards the Martian surface.
After a three-hour descent, the capsule carrying the module and rover entered the Mars atmosphere at an altitude of 125 kilometers (78 miles), kicking off the most risky part of the mission.
Once the capsule’s speed reduced from 4.8 kms per second to 460 meters/s, a massive parachute with an area of around 200 square meters was deployed to further reduce the velocity to 100 m/s.
Then the parachute and the outer shell of the capsule detached themselves, while the retrorocket of the landing module was activated to further reduce the speed to almost zero.
At around 100 meters from the surface, the rover floated for a few moments to identify obstacles and measure the incline in the surface before selecting a relatively plain area and slowly making a successful landing on its four suspension-equipped legs.
The capsule’s entry into the Mars atmosphere, which took around nine minutes, was extremely complicated without ground control and had to be carried out by the special spacecraft autonomously, CNSA spokesperson Gen Yan said.
He said each step had only one chance for success and the actions were closely linked with each other, adding that any error could have resulted in the mission’s failure.
Currently the Mars landing success rate worldwide stands at less than 50 percent, with most of the attempts failing during descent.
The mission’s chief designer Sun Zezhou said it was an extremely precise operation achieved by multiple technologies, including the aerodynamic design of the capsule, the parachute and the engine suited for a soft landing.
The Tianwen-1 probe successfully entered the Mars orbit on Feb. 10 after a six and a-half month journey from southern China.
With Saturday’s landing, China became the first country to fly to Mars, enter its orbit and explore the surface within a single mission, at a cost of around $8 billion.
Tianwen 1, a name that means “questions to heaven” in Mandarin and is taken from a classic Chinese poem, was launched on Jul. 22, 2020 from the Wenchang space center in the southern island of Hainan. EFE