China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1 carried out a key deep-space maneuver about 30 million kilometers away from Earth on Friday night, according to the China National Space Administration.
The probe completed the maneuver at 11 p.m. after its main engine worked for over eight minutes, moving the spacecraft toward a Martian orbit. At this point, the probe’s orbit can be accurately captured by and interact with Mars.
The elaborately designed maneuver was intended to “adjust the flight route to enable the spacecraft to fly accurately toward the preset point where the vehicle is expected to be captured by Mars’ gravity at the beginning of 2021,” said Rao Wei, a project manager for Tianwen-1 at the China Academy of Space Technology.
The operation will also allow the probe to continue its journey in a fuel-efficient manner, he told state-owned media ChinaDaily.
As of the deep-space maneuver, Tianwen-1 has flown for more than 78 days and is more than 29 million kilometers away from Earth. The probe systems are currently in stable condition, according to state-owned media Xinhua.
China launched Tianwen-1, the country’s first independent Mars mission, on July 23 at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan Province. It was designed to complete orbiting, landing, and roving in one mission. The probe will reach the red planet around February 2021, according to Xinhua.
The probe has performed two midcourse orbital corrections.
Going forward, the probe will rendezvous with Mars about four months after its current orbit, during which two or three mid-course orbital corrections will be implemented, according to the administration.
In 2016, Xu Dazhe, director of the administration, said China is moving from a big space power country to a strong space power country and would launch a Mars exploration satellite in 2020 and complete a space station in 2022.