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Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover (2020).png
The Tianwen-1 orbiter (below) and the capsule housing the lander and Zhurong rover (top).
NamesHuoxing-1 (火星-1) (2018–2020)[1][2][3]
Mission typeMars exploration
COSPAR ID2020-049A
SATCAT no.45935
Mission duration
  • 457 days, 10 hours, 6 minutes (since launch)
  • Orbiter: 2 Earth years (planned)
  • 255 days, 2 hours, 55 minutes (since orbit insertion)
  • Zhurong: 90 sols (planned)[4]
  • 154 days, 12 hours, 7 minutes (since deployment)
Spacecraft properties
  • Orbiter
  • lander
  • Zhurong
  • Tianwen-1 Deployable Camera (TDC)
  • Tianwen-1 Remote Camera (TRC)
Launch mass
  • Total: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb)
  • Orbiter: 3,175 kg (7,000 lb)
  • Zhurong: 240 kg (530 lb)
DimensionsZhurong: 2.6 m × 3 m × 1.85 m (8 ft 6 in × 9 ft 10 in × 6 ft 1 in)
Start of mission
Launch date23 July 2020, 04:41:15 UTC[5]
RocketLong March 5 (Y4)
Launch siteWenchang LC-101
ContractorChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
Mars orbiter
Spacecraft componentTianwen-1 Orbiter
Orbital insertion10 February 2021, 11:52 UTC[6][7]
Flyby of Mars
Spacecraft componentTianwen-1 Deployable Camera (TDC)
Closest approach~10 February 2021(deployed from Tianwen-1 Orbiter in September 2020)[8]
Mars lander
Spacecraft componentTianwen-1 Lander
Landing date14 May 2021, 23:18 UTC[9][10][11]
Landing siteUtopia Planitia[12]
25°06′N 109°54′E / 25.1°N 109.9°E / 25.1; 109.9Coordinates: 25°06′N 109°54′E / 25.1°N 109.9°E / 25.1; 109.9[13]
Mars rover
Spacecraft componentZhurong Rover
Landing date14 May 2021, 23:18 UTC (deployed from Tianwen-1 lander on 22 May 2021, 02:40 UTC)[14]
Landing siteUtopia Planitia[12]
25°06′N 109°54′E / 25.1°N 109.9°E / 25.1; 109.9
Distance driven1,182 m (3,878 ft)[15]as of September 2021
Mars lander
Spacecraft componentTianwen-1 Remote Camera (TRC)
Landing date14 May 2021, 23:18 UTC (deployed from Zhurong rover on 1 June 2021, which itself was deployed from Tianwen-1 lander on 22 May 2021, 02:40 UTC)[16]
Landing siteUtopia Planitia[12]
25°06′N 109°54′E / 25.1°N 109.9°E / 25.1; 109.9[13]
Chinese Planetary Exploration Mars logo
Planetary Exploration of China Mars logo  

Tianwen-1 (TW-1; simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; lit. Heavenly Questions) is an interplanetary mission by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) to send a robotic spacecraft to Mars, consisting of 5 parts: an orbiter, deployable camera, lander, drop camera, and the Zhurong rover.[17] The spacecraft, with a total mass of nearly five tons, is one of the heaviest probes launched to Mars and carries 13 scientific instruments. It is the first in a series of planned missions undertaken by CNSA as part of its Planetary Exploration of China program.

The "group video" of Zhurong rover and Tianwen-1 lander taken by a remote camera dropped by the rover.

The mission's scientific objectives include: investigation of Martian surface geology and internal structure, search for indications of current and past presence of water, and characterization of the space environment and the atmosphere of Mars.

The mission was launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on 23 July 2020[18] on a Long March 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle. After seven months of transit through the inner Solar System, the spacecraft entered Martian orbit on 10 February 2021.[19][7] For the next three months the probe studied the target landing sites from a reconnaissance orbit. On 14 May 2021, the lander/rover portion of the mission successfully touched down on Mars,[17] making China the third nation to both land softly on and establish communication from the Martian surface, after the Soviet Union and the United States.[20][21][a]

On 22 May 2021, the Zhurong rover drove onto the Martian surface via the descent ramps on its landing platform.[23][24] With the successful deployment of the rover, China became the second nation to accomplish this feat, after the United States.[4][25][26][27] In addition, China is the first nation to carry out an orbiting, landing and rovering mission on Mars successfully on its maiden attempt.[28] Tianwen-1 is also the second mission to capture audio recordings on the Martian surface, after United States' Perseverance rover. The "smallsat" deployed by the Zhurong rover on the Martian surface consists of a "drop camera" which photographed both the rover itself as well as the Tianwen-1 lander.[29] With a mass of less than 1 kg, the Tianwen-1 drop camera is the lightest artificial object on Mars as of May 2021.

The Tianwen-1 mission was the second of three Martian exploration missions launched during the July 2020 window, after the United Arab Emirates Space Agency's Hope orbiter, and before NASA's Mars 2020 mission, which landed the Perseverance rover with the attached Ingenuity helicopter drone.


China's planetary exploration program is officially dubbed the "Tianwen Series". "Tianwen-1" is the program's first mission, and subsequent planetary missions will be numbered sequentially.[30] The name Tianwen means "questions to heaven" or "quest for heavenly truth", from the same classical poem written by Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC), an ancient Chinese poet.[31][32] Tianwen-1's rover is named Zhurong (Chinese: 祝融), after a Chinese mytho-historical figure usually associated with fire and light.[33] The name was chosen through an online poll held from January to February 2021.[34]

Earlier attempt[edit]

China's Mars program started in partnership with Russia. In November 2011, the Russian spacecraft Fobos-Grunt, destined for Mars and Phobos, was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Russian spacecraft carried with it an attached secondary spacecraft, the Yinghuo-1, which was intended to become China's first Mars orbiter (Fobos-Grunt also carried experiments from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the American Planetary Society). However, Fobos-Grunt's main propulsion unit failed to boost the Mars-bound stack from its initial Earth parking orbit and the combined multinational spacecraft and experiments eventually reentered the atmosphere of Earth in January 2012.[35] China subsequently began an independent Mars project.[36]

Mission overview[edit]

Launch of Tianwen-1 from Wenchang on Hainan, 23 July 2020
A schematic of the Tianwen-1 spacecraft stack
Mockup of the Zhurong rover at the 69th International Astronautical Congress

The new Chinese Mars spacecraft, consisting of an orbiter and a lander with an attached rover, was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and is managed by the National Space Science Centre (NSSC) in Beijing.[37] The mission was formally approved by Chinese authorities in 2016.[38]

On 14 November 2019, CNSA invited some foreign embassies and international organizations to witness hovering and obstacle avoidance test for Mars Lander of China's first Mars exploration mission at the extraterrestrial celestial landing test site. It was the first public appearance of China's Mars exploration mission.[39]

As the mission preparation proceeded, in April 2020, the mission was formally named "Tianwen-1".[40]

On 23 July 2020, Tianwen-1 was launched from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the Chinese island of Hainan atop a Long March 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle.[18]

In September 2020, the Tianwen-1 orbiter deployed the Tianwen-1 Deployable Camera (TDC), a small satellite with two cameras that took photos of and tested a radio connection with Tianwen-1.[8] Its mission was to photograph the Tianwen-1 orbiter and the lander's heat shield.[8] Due to the time when it was deployed, it trajectory predicted to do a flyby of Mars with that happening around the rbit insertion date.

During its cruise to Mars, the spacecraft completed four trajectory correction maneuvers plus an additional maneuver to alter its heliocentric orbital inclination; it also performed self diagnostics on multiple payloads.[41][42] After payload checkouts, the spacecraft began scientific operations with the Mars Energetic Particle Analyzer, mounted on the orbiter, which transmitted initial data back to ground control.[43]

The lander/rover portion of the mission began its Martian landing attempt on 14 May 2021. About nine minutes after the aeroshell housing the lander/rover combination entered the Martian atmosphere, the lander (carrying the rover) safely touched down in the Utopia Planitia region on Mars.[44][45][46] After a period spent conducting system checkouts and other planning activities (including taking engineering images of itself), the lander deployed the Zhurong rover for independent surface operations.[47] This rover is powered by solar panels and will probe the Martian surface with radar and conduct chemical analyses on the soil; it will also look for biomolecules and biosignatures.[4]

Mission objectives[edit]

This is the CNSA's first interplanetary mission, as well as its first independent probe to Mars. The primary goal is therefore to validate China's deep space communications and control technologies, as well as the Administration's ability to successfully orbit and land spacecraft.

From a scientific point of view, the mission must meet five objectives:

  • Study the geological structure of Mars and that structure's historical evolution. To do this, the probe will analyze topographical data from characteristic regions such as dry riverbeds, the reliefs of volcanoes, glaciers at the poles, areas affected by wind erosion, etc. The two cameras present on the orbiter are dedicated to this objective.
  • Study the characteristics of both the surface and underground layers of Martian soil, as well as the distribution of water ice. This is the role of the radars present on the orbiter and the rover.
  • Study the composition and type of rocks on the Martian surface, carbonate minerals present in ancient lakes, rivers, and other landscapes resulting from the past presence of water on the planet, and weathering mineral such as hematites, lamellar silicates, sulphate hydrates and perchlorate. The spectrometers on board the orbiter and the rover as well as the multispectral camera are dedicated to this objective.
  • Study the ionosphere, the climate, the seasons, and more generally the atmosphere of Mars, both in its near-space environment and on its surface. This is the role of the two particle detectors present on the orbiter as well as of the rover's weather station.
  • Study the internal structure of Mars, its magnetic field, the history of its geological evolution, the internal distribution of its mass, and its gravitational field. The magnetometers as well as the radars present on the orbiter and the rover are dedicated to this objective.[48]

The aims of the mission include searching for evidence of current and past life, producing surface maps, characterizing soil composition and water ice distribution, and examining the Martian atmosphere, particularly its ionosphere.[25]

The mission also serves as a technology demonstration that will be needed for an anticipated Chinese Mars sample-return mission proposed for the 2030s.[49] Zhurong will also cache rock and soil samples for retrieval by the later sample-return mission, and the orbiter will make it possible to locate a caching site.[50]

Mission planning[edit]

The orbiter's transfer orbit and trajectory correction maneuvers (TCM)

In late 2019, the Xi'an Aerospace Propulsion Institute, a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), stated that the performance and control of the future spacecraft's propulsion system has been verified and had passed all requisite pre-flight tests, including tests for hovering, hazard avoidance, deceleration and landing. The main component of the lander's propulsion system consists of a single engine that provides 7,500 N (1,700 lbf) of thrust. The spacecraft's supersonic parachute system had also been successfully tested.[38]

CNSA initially focused on the Chryse Planitia and Elysium Mons regions of Mars in its search for possible landing sites. However, in September 2019 during a joint meeting in Geneva, in Switzerland, of the European Planetary Science Congress-Division for Planetary Sciences, Chinese presenters announced that two preliminary sites in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars have instead been chosen for the anticipated landing attempt, with each site having a landing ellipse of approximately 100 by 40 kilometres.[38]

In July 2020, CNSA provided landing coordinates of 110.318° East longitude and 24.748° North latitude, within the southern portion of Utopia Planitia, as the specific primary landing site. The area appears to provide a relatively safe place for a landing attempt but is also of great scientific interest, according to Alfred McEwen, director of the Planetary Image Research Laboratory at the University of Arizona.[12] Simulated landings have been performed as part of mission preparations by the Beijing Institute of Space Mechanics and Electricity.[51]

By 23 January 2020, the Long March 5 Y4 rocket's hydrogen-oxygen engine had completed a 100-seconds test, which was the last engine test prior to the final assembly of the launch vehicle. It successfully launched on 23 July 2020.[18]

Entering Mars orbit[edit]

The three Tianwen-1 spacecraft were launched by Long March 5 Heavy-lift launch vehicle on 23 July 2020. Having traveled for about seven months, it entered Mars orbit on 10 February 2021 by performing a burn of its engines to slow down just enough to be captured by Mars' gravitational pull. The orbiter spent several months scanning and imaging the surface of Mars to refine the target landing zone for the lander/rover.[52][53][32] It approached at about 265 km (165 mi) (periareion, or periapse) to Mars' surface, allowing a high-resolution camera to return images to Earth and to map the landing site in Utopia Planitia, and to prepare for landing.[42]

Planned orbital trajectory at Mars

Orbital elements[edit]

Values of final orbital parameters
Parameter Value (unit)
Periareion altitude 265 km
Apoareion altitude 12,000 km
Inclination 86.9°
Period 7.8 hours

Landing on Mars[edit]

Landing area selection[edit]

The landing area were determined based on two criteria:[54]

  • Engineering feasibility, including latitude, altitude, slope, surface condition, rock distribution, local wind speed, visibility requirements during the EDL process.
  • Scientific objectives, including geology, soil structure and water ice distribution, surface elements, mineral, and rock distribution, magnetic field detection.

Two areas were preselected in the next stage: Chryse Planitia and Utopia Planitia.

The two landing site candidates of Tianwen-1 mission.
The two landing site candidates of Tianwen-1 mission are enclosed by red lines on Martian map. The one on the left is located in Chryse Planitia and the one on the right in Utopia Planitia.

The candidate in Utopia Planitia was more favored by the team due to higher chances of finding proofs about whether ancient ocean ever exist on the northern part of the Mars.[54] It was eventually selected as the final landing area of the mission.

The landing[edit]

Tianwen-1's parachute deployment and powered landing sequence
Image of Tianwen-1 lander on Martian surface. Photo taken by Zhurong rover.
Image of Tianwen-1 lander on Martian surface taken by Zhurong rover.

At 23:18 UTC, on 14 May 2021, the Tianwen-1 lander successfully landed in the preselected landing area in the southern part of the Mars Utopia Planitia.[9][55][56][57][58] The landing phase began with the release of the protective capsule containing the lander/rover. The capsule made an atmospheric entry followed by a descent phase under parachute, after which the lander used retro-propulsion to soft-land on Mars.[10][11][56]

On 19 May 2021, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) released for the first time images showing the preparation of the final transfer of the Zhurong rover from the platform of the lander to the Martian soil. The photographs show the solar panels of Zhurong already deployed while Zhurong is still perched on the lander.[45][46] The long delay for the publication of the first images is explained by the short periods of time when the Zhurong rover and the orbiter are in radio contact and can effectively communicate and transfer data.[59]

On 11 June 2021, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) released the first batch of scientific images from the surface of Mars including a panoramic image taken by Zhurong and a group photo of Zhurong and the Tianwen-1 lander taken by the drop camera. The panoramic image is composed of 24 single shots taken by the NaTeCam before the rover was deployed to the Martian surface. The image reveals that the topography and rock abundance near the landing site was consistent with previous anticipations from the scientist on typical south Utopia Planitia features with small but widespread rocks, white wave patterns, and mud volcanoes.[16]

Exploration of Martian surface[edit]

On 22 May 2021 (02:40 UTC), the Zhurong rover descended from its lander onto the Martian surface to begin its scientific mission. The first images received on Earth after the rover deployment showed the empty landing platform and the extended rover-descent ramps.[23][24] During its deployment, the Rover's instrument, Mars Climatic Station, recorded the sound, acting as the second martian sound instrument to record martian sounds successfully after Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's microphones.

Mars rover, Zhurong rover's deployment from lander, heard by Mars Climatic Station (MCI)
(22 May, 2021)

The Zhurong rover deployed a drop camera to the surface which was able to photograph both the Zhurong rover and the Tianwen-1 lander.[29]

The Zhurong rover and Tianwen-1 lander (above) as seen by NASA MRO on 11 June, 2021.

The rover is designed to explore the surface for 90 sols; its height is about 1.85 m (6.1 ft) and it has a mass of about 240 kg (530 lb). After the rover deployment, the orbiter would serve as a telecommunications relay for the rover while continuing to conduct its own orbital observations of Mars.[60]

On 12 July 2021, Zhurong visited the parachute and backshell dropped onto Martian surface during its landing on 14 May.[61][62]


Scientific instruments[edit]

To achieve the scientific objectives of the mission, the Tianwen-1 orbiter is equipped with seven scientific instruments, while Zhurong rover is equipped with six, which include:[54]


The configuration and layout of payloads onboard the Tianwen-1 orbiter
The configuration and layout of payloads onboard the Tianwen-1 orbiter
  • Moderate Resolution Imaging Camera (MoRIC) with a resolution of 100 m from a 400 km altitude. It takes color photos in visible band.
  • High Resolution Imaging Camera (HiRIC) with a resolution of 2.5 m from a 256 km altitude in panchromatic mode, 10 m in color mode.
  • Mars Orbiter Magnetometer (MOMAG) is used to map Martian magnetic field.
  • Mars Mineralogical Spectrometer (MMS) utilizes the visible and near infrared imaging spectrometer with detection wavelengths ranging from 0.45 to 3.4 µm to investigate and analyze the Martian surface composition. It also investigate the distribution of regolith types and subsurface structure of Mars.
  • Mars Orbiter Scientific Investigation Radar (MOSIR) aims to explore the Martian surface and subsurface water-ice by means of the dual-polarization echo characteristics of radar.
  • Mars Ion and Neutral Particle Analyzer (MINPA) measures the flux of ions in space environment, distinguishes the main ions and obtains their physical parameters such as the density, velocity and temperature.
  • Mars Energetic Particle Analyzer (MEPA) obtains the energy spectrum, flux and elemental composition of energy electrons, protons, α particles and ions.

Zhurong rover[edit]

The configuration and layout of payloads onboard the Zhurong rover
  • Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (RoPeR) Ground-penetrating radar (GPR), two frequencies, to image about 100 m (330 ft) below the Martian surface[25] It was one of the two very first ground-penetrating radars deployed on Mars, along with the one equipped by NASA's Perseverance rover launched and landed in same years.[63]
  • Mars Rover Magnetometer (RoMAG) obtains the fine-scale structures of crustal magnetic field based on mobile measurements on the Martian surface.
  • Mars Climate Station (MCS) (also MMMI Mars Meteorological Measurement Instrument) measures the temperature, pressure, wind velocity and direction of the surface atmosphere, and a microphone to capture Martian sounds. During rover's deployment, it recorded the sound, acting as the second martian sound instrument to record martian sounds successfully after Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's microphones.
  • Mars Surface Compound Detector (MarSCoDe) combines laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and infrared spectroscopy[64]
  • Multispectral Camera (MSCam) Combined with MarSCoDe, MSCam investigates the mineral components to establish the relationship between Martian surface water environment and secondary mineral types, and to search for historical environmental conditions for the presence of liquid water.
  • Navigation and Topography Cameras (NaTeCam) With 2048 × 2048 resolution, NaTeCam is used to construct topography maps, extract parameters such as slope, undulation and roughness, investigate geological structures, and conduct comprehensive analysis on the geological structure of the surface parameters.

Other instruments[edit]

  • Tianwen-1 Deployable Camera, secondary Payload deployed in September 2020 that took photos of and tested a radio connection with Tianwen-1.[8] Its mission was to photograph the Tianwen-1 orbiter and the lander's heat shield.
  • Tianwen-1 Remote Camera, secondary Payload deployed on 1 June 2021 that took photos of and tested a wireless connection with Zhurong rover like the deployable camera did with orbiter. Its mission was to take a group selfie of the Zhurong rover and the Tianwen-1 lander.[65] The photo was released on 11 June 2021, confirming their Martian landing success.[16]

International collaborations[edit]

Argentina's Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE) is collaborating on Tianwen-1 by way of a Chinese-run tracking station installed in Las Lajas, Neuquén. The facility played a previous role in China's landing of the Chang'e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon in January 2019.[66]

France's Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP) in Toulouse, in France, is collaborating on the Zhurong rover. Sylvestre Maurice [fr] of IRAP said:

For their Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument, we have delivered a calibration target that is a French duplicate of a target which is on [NASA's] Curiosity [Mars rover]. The idea is to see how the two datasets compare.[66]

The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) aided in the development of a magnetometer installed on the Tianwen-1 orbiter. The Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz has confirmed the group's contribution to the Tianwen-1 magnetometer and helped with the calibration of the flight instrument.[66]

While the Tianwen-1 orbiter will dispense commands to the Zhurong rover, the Mars Express orbiter of the European Space Agency could serve as a backup.[67]

Acheron FossaeAcidalia PlanitiaAlba MonsAmazonis PlanitiaAonia PlanitiaArabia TerraArcadia PlanitiaArgentea PlanumArgyre PlanitiaChryse PlanitiaClaritas FossaeCydonia MensaeDaedalia PlanumElysium MonsElysium PlanitiaGale craterHadriaca PateraHellas MontesHellas PlanitiaHesperia PlanumHolden craterIcaria PlanumIsidis PlanitiaJezero craterLomonosov craterLucus PlanumLycus SulciLyot craterLunae PlanumMalea PlanumMaraldi craterMareotis FossaeMareotis TempeMargaritifer TerraMie craterMilankovič craterNepenthes MensaeNereidum MontesNilosyrtis MensaeNoachis TerraOlympica FossaeOlympus MonsPlanum AustralePromethei TerraProtonilus MensaeSirenumSisyphi PlanumSolis PlanumSyria PlanumTantalus FossaeTempe TerraTerra CimmeriaTerra SabaeaTerra SirenumTharsis MontesTractus CatenaTyrrhen TerraUlysses PateraUranius PateraUtopia PlanitiaValles MarinerisVastitas BorealisXanthe TerraMap of Mars
The image above contains clickable links Interactive image map of the global topography of Mars, overlain with locations of Mars Lander and Rover sites. Hover your mouse over the image to see the names of over 60 prominent geographic features, and click to link to them. Coloring of the base map indicates relative elevations, based on data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor. Whites and browns indicate the highest elevations (+12 to +8 km); followed by pinks and reds (+8 to +3 km); yellow is 0 km; greens and blues are lower elevations (down to −8 km). Axes are latitude and longitude; Polar regions are noted.
(   Active ROVER  Inactive  Active LANDER  Inactive  Future )
Beagle 2
Bradbury Landing
Deep Space 2
Columbia Memorial Station
InSight Landing
Mars 2
Mars 3
Mars 6
Mars Polar Lander
Challenger Memorial Station
Mars 2020
Green Valley
Schiaparelli EDM
Carl Sagan Memorial Station
Columbia Memorial Station
Thomas Mutch Memorial Station
Gerald Soffen Memorial Station


Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping stated in response to the landing:

You were brave enough for the challenge, pursued excellence and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration. Your outstanding achievement will forever be etched in the memories of the motherland and the people.[27]

In the US, NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted his congratulations:

Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity's understanding of the Red Planet.[68]

Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos of Russia, praised China's successful mission:

The landing of China's spacecraft on the surface of Mars is "a great success" of China's fundamental space research program [and] welcome[d] the resumption of exploration of the planets of the solar system by the leading space powers.[69]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The United Kingdom's Beagle 2, part of the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission, appears to have landed successfully, but was unable to establish communications after failing to fully deploy its solar panels.[21][22]


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