Huge antenna ready to support Chinese mission to Mars

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China is gearing up for its long-awaited Tianwen-1 mission, which aims to place an orbiter around Mars, and deliver a rover to the surface. In order to receive as much data as possible, the Chinese authorities have built a huge antenna, especially for the occasion.

The mission Tianwen-1, which includes an orbiter and a rover, must enter Martian orbit this Wednesday, February 10, before attempting a landing in May in a region called Utopia Planitia, a huge impact basin. If successful, it will be a first for China, which has already landed on the Moon three times. It will also be the second only country to gently land a craft on the Red Planet after the United States.

While waiting for this landing, the Chinese orbiter will be able to start returning data. Its main objective will be to probe the distribution of water ice in Martian basements. It will also be a question of mapping the geological structure of the planet.

To do this, it will be equipped with two medium (MoRIC) and high resolution (HiRIC) cameras, a ground penetrating radar (MOSIR), an infrared spectrometer (MMS), a magnetometer (MOMAG) as well as two particle detectors (MINPA and MEPA).

A dish 70 meters in diameter

However, sending such information to Earth – over millions of kilometers – presents its own challenges.

Also the Chinese authorities have built a antenna 70 meters in diameter especially for the occasion. You will find her in the city of Tianjin, in the north of the country. Built since October 2018, the huge parable of 2,700 tons was officially handed over to the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC) – the operator – on February 3. It is now ready to support the Tianwen-1 mission, but also future companies in deep space.

The construction of the antenna is intended to receive weak data from Martian scientific exploration over more than 400 million kilometers ”said Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of the China Mars Exploration Project. “With distance, energy [du signal] will become attenuated and more dense, that is, we will receive less energy per unit area. So we need [d’une antenne] large area to collect enough energy “, he added.

The Chinese Tianwen-1 probe on Mars seen by a tiny camera ejected from the spacecraft in a photo taken 24 million kilometers from Earth. Credits: CNSA

The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has just announced a shortlist of ten names for its Martian rover. All of these propositions refer to Chinese mythological figures, Confucian concepts and legendary animals. The judges will then deliberate and announce a final name some time before the rover disembarks on the Martian surface.

The rover will join another vehicle, Perseverance. The American rover – the heaviest and most sophisticated ever sent to Mars – will attempt to land a few weeks earlier (February 18) in the Jezero crater.

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