China's Mars mission tests instruments on its way to the Red Planet

An artist's concept of China's first Mars rover mission, Tianwen-1.
An artist's concept of China's first Mars rover mission, Tianwen-1. (Image credit: CCTV/China National Space Administration)

China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft is performing well on its cruise to Mars and is preparing for its second trajectory correction maneuver, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

By Aug. 19 at 11:20 a.m. EDT (1520 GMT), the spacecraft, which includes an orbiter, lander and rover, was 5.11 million miles (8.23 million kilometers) away from Earth and operating normally, according to CNSA.

That same day, mission engineers began testing instruments on the orbiter, including the Mars magnetometer, the mineralogy spectrometer and the medium- and high-resolution remote-sensing cameras.

Related: On its way to Mars, Chinese spacecraft spots Earth and moon, aces steering maneuver

"So far everything is good. At present, we are following its 'health condition' during the flight, and will conduct regular checkups on it," Wang Chuang, chief designer of Tianwen-1, told Chinese media.

The Mars magnetometer will explore the magnetic environment on the planet. The Mars mineralogy spectrometer will analyze the composition and distribution of minerals. Meanwhile, the pair of cameras will map the Red Planet and study its morphology and geological structure.

The orbiter carries seven science payloads in total, with the rover carrying another six.

According to a further update from CNSA on Sunday (Aug. 23), Tianwen-1 was 5.76 million miles (9.27 million km) from Earth, with a total flight distance of 53.7 million miles (86.5 million km). 

The spacecraft will carry out its second trajectory correction maneuver in September, according to CNSA. In total, Tianwen-1 will carry out four such operations before reaching Mars.

The first such trajectory correction maneuver was carried out on Aug. 1, with Tianwen-1 firing its main engine for 20 seconds. The spacecraft also imaged the Earth and the moon.

Tianwen-1 launched on July 23 on a Long March 5 rocket from Wenchang. It will arrive at Mars in February and enter orbit around the planet. The rover landing attempt will take place around April, targeting a southern portion of the Utopia Planitia region.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.