China launches Mars probe in space race with US Photograph:( AFP )
Tianwen-1 is not China's first attempt to go to Mars. A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely as the launch failed. Now, Beijing is trying on its own.
China has launched a rover to Mars on a journey coinciding with a similar US mission.
The two countries are taking advantage of a period when Earth and Mars are closest to send their probes, with China's mission due to lift off by Saturday and the US spacecraft on July 30.
The Chinese mission has been named Tianwen-1 ("Questions to Heaven") in a nod to a classical poem that has verses about the cosmos. It was launched on a Long March 5 -- China's biggest space rocket -- from the southern island of Hainan on Thursday.
Tianwen-1 is expected to arrive in February 2021 after a seven-month, 55-million-kilometre (34-million-mile) voyage.
The mission includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet's soil.
Tianwen-1 is not China's first attempt to go to Mars. A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely as the launch failed.
Now, Beijing is trying on its own.
The United Arab Emirates launched a probe on Monday that will orbit Mars once it reaches the Red Planet.
The United States has already sent four rovers to Mars since the late 1990s.
The next one, Perseverance, is an SUV-sized vehicle that will look for signs of ancient microbial life, and gather rock and soil samples with the goal of bringing them back to Earth on another mission in 2031.
China has made huge strides in the past decade, sending a human into space in 2003. The Asian powerhouse has laid the groundwork to assemble a space station by 2022 and gain a permanent foothold in Earth orbit.
Also, China has already sent two rovers to the Moon. With the second, China became the first country to make a successful soft landing on the far side.
China has upgraded its monitoring stations in the far-western Xinjiang region and northeastern Heilongjiang province to meet the Mars mission requirements, state news agency Xinhua reported last week.
The majority of the dozens of missions sent by the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and India to Mars since 1960 ended in failure.