A giant antenna constructed in north China is now ready to support the Tianwen-1 Mars mission and future deep space endeavors.
With China's first interplanetary mission, Tianwen-1, about to reach Mars, the newly constructed, 230-foot (70 meters) diameter dish antenna in the city of Tianjin has been tested and is ready to receive data from the spacecraft.
Tianwen-1 is due to enter Mars orbit on Wednesday (Feb. 10) and begin its science and imaging observations shortly after. However, getting this valuable information back to Earth from up to 250 million miles away deep space brings its own challenges.
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"The construction of the antenna is intended to receive weak scientific exploration data from Mars which is 400 million kilometers away from the Earth," Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of China's first Mars exploration project, told Chinese media.
Construction of the facility began in October 2018 and the huge 2,700-ton dish was hoisted to a height of 236 feet (72 m) last April.
The dish comprises 1,328 high-precision panels and has an area of 49,000 square feet (4,560 square meters), or around nine basketball courts. It was officially handed over to the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), the dish's operator, on Feb. 3.
"With the distance [getting farther], the [signal's] energy will become attenuated and denser, and that is to say, the less energy we will receive per unit area. So we need [an antenna] with a large area in order to collect enough energy," Li added
The movable antenna can be rotated and steered in order to track Mars as its position in the sky changes. The new facility in Tianjin joins a range of smaller diameter dishes across the country to support its space activities.
The five-ton Tianwen-1 spacecraft consists of both an orbiter and a rover. The pair are expected to enter Mars orbit around 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT, 8 p.m. Beijing time) on Wednesday, Feb. 10.
After entering orbit, Tianwen-1 will begin to prepare for a later landing attempt of the mission's rover, expected around May.
The roughly 530-lb. (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover is intended to land in and explore a region named Utopia Planitia, a huge impact basin.
The Tianwen-1 orbiter will image the landing area in preparation for the landing. On Friday (Feb. 5) the spacecraft's high resolution camera returned a stunning image of Mars from a distance of 1.36 million miles (2.2 million km).
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