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Tianwen-1 Mission: China’s space probe successfully lands on the surface of Mars

A Chinese space probe successfully landed on the surface of Mars on Saturday, Xinhua reported, making China the second space-faring nation after the United States to land on the Red Planet.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on a site on a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia, “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time”, state media reported.

The spacecraft left its parked orbit at about around 1:00am Beijing time Saturday.

The landing module separated from the orbiter three hours later and entered the Martian atmosphere. The landing process consisted of “nine minutes of terror” as the module decelerates and then slowly descends.

Now the solar-powered rover will now survey the landing site before departing from its platform to conduct inspections. The rover is named Zhurong, after a mythical Chinese god of fire.

Zhurong has six scientific instruments including a high-resolution topography camera.

The rover will study the planet’s surface soil and atmosphere. Zhurong will also look for signs of ancient life, including any sub-surface water and ice, using ground-penetrating radar.

Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven”, named after a Chinese poem written two millennia ago, is China’s first independent mission to Mars. A probe co-launched with Russia in 2011 failed to leave the Earth’s orbit.

The five-tonne spacecraft blasted off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan in July last year, launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.

After more than six months in transit, Tianwen-1 reached Mars in February, where it had been in orbit since.

If Zhurong is successfully deployed, China would be the first country to orbit, land and release a rover in its maiden mission to Mars.

China is pursuing an ambitious space programme. It is testing reusable spacecraft and is also planning to establish a crewed lunar research station.