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 Edit this at Wikidata
SATCAT no.45935
Mission duration
  • 1303 days, 10 hours, 27 minutes (since launch)
  • Orbiter: 2 Earth years (planned)
  • 1101 days, 3 hours, 16 minutes (since orbit insertion)
  • Zhurong: 90 sols (planned)[4]
Spacecraft properties
  • Orbiter
  • lander
  • Zhurong
  • Tianwen-1 Deployable Camera (TDC)
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 componentOrbiter
Orbital insertion10 February 2021, 11:52 UTC[6][7]
Mars lander
Spacecraft componentLander
Landing date14 May 2021, 23:18 UTC[8][9][10]
Landing siteUtopia Planitia[11]
25°06′N 109°54′E / 25.1°N 109.9°E / 25.1; 109.9[12]
Mars rover
Spacecraft componentZhurong
Landing date14 May 2021, 23:18 UTC (deployed from lander on 22 May 2021, 02:40 UTC)[13]
Landing siteUtopia Planitia[11]
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 an orbiter, deployable camera, lander and the Zhurong rover.[14] 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 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[15] 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.[16][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,[14] 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.[17][18][a]

On 22 May 2021, the Zhurong rover drove onto the Martian surface via the descent ramps on the landing platform.[20][21] With the successful deployment of the rover, China became the second nation to accomplish this feat, after the United States,[4][22] as well as the first nation to orbit, land and release a rover during its first foray into Martian space.[23][24]

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.[25] The name Tianwen means "questions to heaven" or "quest for heavenly truth", is from the same classical poem written by Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC), an ancient Chinese poet.[26][27] Tianwen-1's rover is named Zhurong (Chinese: 祝融), after a Chinese mytho-historical figure usually associated with fire and light.[28] The name was chosen through an online poll held from January to February 2021.[29]

Earlier attempt

Model of Fobos-Grunt presented at the Paris Air Show in 2011. The Chinese satellite Yinghuo-1 is in the center, marked with the label 3.

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.[30] China subsequently began an independent Mars project.[31]

Mission overview

Launch of Tianwen-1 from Wenchang on Hainan, 23 July 2020
A schematic of the Tianwen-1 spacecraft stack

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.[32] The mission was formally approved by Chinese authorities in 2016.[33]

On November 14, 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.[34]

As the mission preparation proceeded, in April 2020, the mission was formally named "Tianwen-1".[35]

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.[15]

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.[36] Its mission was to photograph the Tianwen-1 orbiter and the lander's heat shield. [36]

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.[37][38] 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.[39]

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.[40][41][42] 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.[43] 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

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:

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.[45]

The mission also serves as a technology demonstration that will be needed for an anticipated Chinese Mars sample-return mission proposed for the 2030s.[46] 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.[47]

Mission planning

The orbiter's transfer orbit and trajectory correction maneuvers (TCM)
Planned orbital trajectory at Mars

In late 2019, the Xi'an Aerospace Propulsion Institute, a subsidiary of 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.[33]

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.[33]

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.[11] Simulated landings have been performed as part of mission preparations by the Beijing Institute of Space Mechanics and Electricity.[48]

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.[15]

Entering Mars orbit

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.[49][50][27] 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.[38]

Orbital elements

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

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.[8][51][52][53][54] 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.[9][10][52]

On May 19, 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.[41][42] 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.[55]

Exploration of Mars

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.[20][21]

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.[56]

Scientific instruments

Mockup of the Zhurong rover at the 69th International Astronautical Congress

To achieve the scientific objectives of the mission, the Tianwen-1 orbiter is equipped with seven instruments while Zhurong is equipped with six instruments, however the rover lacks a robotic arm.[57]


Tianwen-1 Deployable Camera

Zhurong rover

Main article: Zhurong (rover)

International collaborations

Outline of the Tianwen-1 mission (in Chinese)

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.[59]

France's Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) in Toulouse, in France, is collaborating on the Zhurong rover. Sylvestre Maurice 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.[59]

Austria's 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.[59]

While the Tianwen-1 orbiter will dispense commands to the Zhurong rover, the Mars Express orbiter of the European Space Agency will serve as a backup.[60]

Map of Mars
Interactive image map of the global topography of Mars, overlaid with the position of Martian rovers and landers. Coloring of the base map indicates relative elevations of Martian surface.
Clickable image: Clicking on the labels will open a new article.
Legend:   Active (white lined, ※)  Inactive  Planned (dash lined, ⁂)
Beagle 2Beagle 2
Bradbury Landing
Deep Space 2
Deep Space 2
Rosalind FranklinRosalind Franklin
Mars 2Mars 2
Mars 3Mars 3
Mars 6Mars 6
Mars Polar Lander
Mars Polar Lander ↓
Schiaparelli EDM
Schiaparelli EDM
Viking 1
Viking 1
Viking 2Viking 2


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.[61]

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.[62]

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 welcomed the resumption of exploration of the planets of the solar system by leading space powers.[63]

See also


  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.[18][19]
  2. ^ secondary Payload deployed in September 2020 that took photos of and tested a radio connection with Tianwen-1.[36] Its mission was to photograph the Tianwen-1 orbiter and the lander's heat shield.


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