China builds Asia’s largest antenna for Mars mission

China has developed a 72-meter diameter steerable radio telescope, Asia’s largest that will be ready to be used for the country’s first Mars mission, Tianwen-1.

Tianwen, which was launched in July 2020, directly translates to “quest for heavenly truth.”

The 72-meter long antennae weighing about 2700 tons is all set to receive its data from the Tianwen-1, which is some 400 million kilometres away from earth and is expected to enter the Red planet’s gravity soon.

The high-performance antenna has been estimated to have the size of 10 basketball courts. It was delivered to the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, for it would play a crucial role in the country’s Mars mission, Chinese state media reported.

Li Chunlai, a deputy chief designer of the project said, “To put it more vividly, sending back data is like shining a laser pointer on the probe at the Earth.”

China’s Tianwen-1 is pacing towards the Red Planet at a distance of 170 million kilometers away from Earth. It is expected to land in the planet’s gravitational field and ‘carry out a braking maneuver’ and eventually enter the Mars orbit around February 10, a day before Chinese New Year’s Eve, states the report.

However, Chinese scientists have pointed out that another factor to determine the efficiency of the antenna is its accuracy in detecting the signal direction.

If the mission goes successful, China would create a new record by putting not only an orbiter, but also a rover and a lander, a trifecta that no other nation has been able to pull off till date.

Mars landing is considered to be one of the most difficult things to achieve. So far, there have been a total of eighteen Mars missions, comprising either landers or rovers. But only ten have been successful.

The Tianwen-1 mission to search for evidence of past and current life on the planet, explore its soil and atmosphere, characterize water distribution and draw maps of the Martian surface, among other things.