China Mars experiment Photograph:( Reuters )
The mission intends to conduct a global and comprehensive exploration of Mars and make detailed surveys of key areas of the Martian surface
After announcing on Thursday that it would launch its first Mars exploration mission in 2020, China completed the first experiment in a series of many to come. The experiment included simulating a probe hovering, avoiding obstacles, and descending to Mars in Huailai County of north China's Hebei province.
According to the officials from the China National Space Administration, the mission intends to conduct a global and comprehensive exploration of Mars and make detailed surveys of key areas of the Martian surface.
Zhang Rongqiao, the chief designer of China's first Mars exploration mission, said the experiment simulated the process of landing on the red planet and verified the design accuracy.
"Today's test verified the procedures including the lander's separation with the main body of the spacecraft from a 70-meter altitude, and then hovering at 67 meters above the surface, searching for a safe landing spot, and then descending to 20 meters above the surface in an obstacle-avoiding mode," said Zhang.
The experiment was held on Asia's largest test ground for landing on extraterrestrial bodies.
To test the design of the lander, the experiment simulated the gravity of Mars, about one-third of the gravity on Earth.
"The testing facility comprises three parts, a tower structure, a servo system and a Martian surface simulation area. The tower is 140 meters tall and the circle on top of the tower is 120 meters in diameter, offering sufficient space to simulate the process of landing on Mars," said Zhang.
A red platform in the middle of the tower is fixed by 36 steel cables. Through precise control, the platform is able to simulate the Martian gravitational environment for the lander and is able to follow the lander to move precisely.
On the ground underneath the tower, engineers created slopes and craters to simulate the environment of the Martian surface.
Ambassadors and diplomats from 19 countries including France, Italy and Brazil, as well as representatives from the European Union, the African Union and the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation, were invited to visit the experiment.
Zhang Kejian, the administrator of the CNSA, said since the official kick-off in 2016, China's Mars exploration programme has progressed well. The hovering and obstacle avoidance test for the Mars lander is a crucial step of the project.
Zhang said China has been actively promoting international cooperation in space exploration. To date, China has signed over 140 space cooperation protocols with 45 countries and international organizations.
Earlier this month, China announced it would make the 16-meter optical data obtained by the Gaofen-1 and Gaofen-6 satellites available to global users.
"At present, China is also actively planning major follow-up space missions, including sampling and return from Mars, asteroid explorations and a number of lunar explorations. We have an open attitude and sincerely welcome space organizations, space science research institutions and foreign space science enthusiasts from various countries to participate in China's space projects in different ways to jointly promote the development of space technology," Zhang said.
(With inputs from Reuters)