China’s successful launch of Mars mission seals global era in deep-space exploration

中国成功发射火星飞行器标志着全球深空探索的时代来临

Tianwen-1 is the second of three spacecraft set to take off this month for the red planet.

天问一号是本月为这颗红色星球发射的三架航天器中的第二架。

Tianwen-1 is scheduled to arrive at Mars in February.

A Chinese spacecraft is on its way to Mars after launching successfully from Hainan Island in southern China. The mission — named Tianwen-1, which means ‘questions to heaven’ — is the country’s first attempt to land on the red planet.

一艘中国太空船从中国南部的海南岛成功发射后,正在前往火星的途中。该太空船命名为天问一号,意为“向宇宙提问”,是中国首次尝试降落在这颗红色星球上的太空船。

The 5,000-kilogram spacecraft, which contains a lander, orbiter and rover, blasted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center aboard a Chinese Long March-5 rocket at 12:41 p.m. local time on 23 July. Some 36 minutes later, the craft was successfully put on its trajectory towards Mars.

这艘载有登陆车、轨道器、火星车的重达5000公斤的飞船于当地时间7月23日下午12点41分乘坐中国长征五号火箭从文昌卫星发射中心发射升空。大约36分钟后,飞船成功地进入了火星轨道。

“This is a really ambitious mission driven by science that represents significant progress in China’s space programme, and they should be proud,” says David Flannery, an astrobiologist at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. “There are a lot of other things that could still go wrong, but so far so good,” he says.

昆士兰科技大学的天体生物学家戴维•弗兰纳里(David Flannery)说:“这是科学驱动的雄心勃勃的任务,代表着中国航天计划的重大进展,他们应该为此感到自豪。” 他说:“还有很多事情可能出问题,但到目前为止一切都很好。”

Chinese officials have been tight-lipped about many details of Tianwen-1, including the cost and launch preparations. “The Mars mission is very risky, so I understand why managers are keeping quite a low profile,” says Ji Wu, former head of China’s National Space Science Center in Beijing. Ji was chief scientist on China’s earlier attempt to send an orbiter to Mars aboard a Russian spacecraft in 2011, which failed. “It didn’t even depart from Earth’s orbit. That was a very sad story,” he says.

中国官方对“天文一号”的许多细节守口如瓶,包括成本和发射准备。前中国国家空间科学中心主任吴季说:“火星任务非常危险,所以我理解管理者为什么保持低调”。吴季曾是2011年中国试图用俄罗斯太空船向火星发射轨道飞行器任务的首席科学家,但失败了。“它甚至没有离开地球轨道,这是一个非常悲惨的故事,”他说。

Tianwen-1 is one of three daring missions to the red planet this year. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched its Hope orbiter earlier this week, and the United States’ craft — a six-wheeled rover named Perseverance — is likely to launch next week.

“天问一号”是今年对这颗红色星球进行的三次大胆任务之一。阿拉伯联合酋长国(UAE)在本周早些时候发射了它的“希望”号轨道飞行器,而美国名为“毅力”的六轮探测器,很可能将于下周发射升空。

Together with the success of the UAE’s orbiter, Tianwen-1 adds weight to a new reality “that Solar System exploration is not the prerogative of the Euro-American world, but a global enterprise”, says geologist Jon Clarke, who is president of the Mars Society Australia based in Canberra. China, India and Japan have previously sent probes into space, including missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus and some asteroids.

“天问一号”与阿联酋轨道飞行器的成功,为一个新的现实增添了砝码,“太阳系探索不是欧美世界的特权,而是一项全球性的事业”,澳大利亚堪培拉火星协会主席、地质学家乔恩·克拉克说。中国、印度和日本此前曾向太空发射探测器,对包括月球、火星、金星和一些小行星进行探测。

Long journey

漫长的旅程

Tianwen-1 is now coasting through space before it reaches its destination in February. The craft will then spend several months positioning itself for the landing. In April, the orbiter will release the lander and rover into the Martian atmosphere, and these will touch down somewhere on Utopia Planitia — a vast plain littered with volcanic rocks within a large basin, and where NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down more than three decades ago. If the landing is successful, China will be only the second country after the United States to softly land a rover on Mars, says Flannery. The six-wheeled, solar-powered rover will explore areas of scientific interest.

天问一号将在太空中航行,直到二月份到达目的地。然后飞船将花费几个月的时间来定位着陆。在4月,火星探测器将把着陆器和火星车释放到火星大气中,它们将降落在乌托邦平原的某个地方——这是一个巨大盆地内散布着火山岩的广阔平原,也是美国宇航局的“海盗2号”登陆车30多年前降落的地方。如果登陆成功,中国将是继美国之后第二个在火星上软着陆的国家,弗兰纳里说,六轮太阳能漫游车将探索科学感兴趣的领域。

The orbiter will loop around Mars for an entire Martian year and act as a communication link for the rover, which has a lifetime of around 90 Martian days — the equivalent of some 93 days on Earth.

该轨道器将在火星上绕火星飞行整整一年,并充当火星车的通讯链路,该火星车的寿命约为90天,相当于地球上93天。

China’s mission aims to conduct a global survey of the planet, including studying its geological structures, surface characteristics and climate. The orbiter is packed with seven scientific instruments, and the rover has six more. These include several cameras, subsurface radar and a spectrometer.

中国的任务是对火星进行一次全球调查,包括研究火星的地质结构、表面特征和气候。轨道飞行器上有7个科学仪器,探测器还有6个。其中包括几个摄像头,地下雷达和光谱仪。

A magnetic-field detector on the rover could gain valuable insights into Mars’s past magnetic field, which would have shielded the planet from radiation, says Flannery. And its ground-penetrating radar will help discern some of the geological structures just below the surface of the planet, he says.

弗兰纳里说,在火星车上的磁场探测器可以对火星过去的磁场获得有价值的见解,而磁场可以使行星免受辐射。 他说,它的探地雷达将有助于辨别行星表面以下的某些地质结构。

The designs of the orbiter and rover seem to draw on China’s several successful missions to the Moon, but are significantly larger than previous probes, says Clarke. The mission “promises to be a milestone in Chinese and global exploration of the planet”, he says. “It will mean new and complementary data about Mars from orbit and from a new location on the Mars surface.”

克拉克说,轨道飞行器和火星车的设计似乎借鉴了中国几次成功的登月任务,但比以前的探测器大得多。 他说,这项任务“有望成为中国乃至全球探索火星的里程碑”。 “这将意味着来自轨道和火星表面新位置的有关火星的新的补充数据。”

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