China’s space program is rapidly reaching one milestone after another. In December, it returned the first lunar surface samples to Earth in decades, and previously became the first nation to soft-land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released a photo of Mars from its Tianwen-1 probe, which is due to enter orbit around the red planet in the coming days. However, the spacecraft is just one of three arriving in Martian orbit this month.
According to CNSA, the image was taken roughly 2.2 million kilometers from Mars, just before Tianwen-1 began a corrective burn to take it into Martian orbit. At present, the probe is just 1.1 million kilometers from Mars.
Tianwen-1 is expected to perform a Mars orbital insertion on February 10 before deploying a lander and rover to the surface in May, if all goes according to plan. If CNSA is successful, it will make China just the third nation to land a spacecraft on Mars, after the United States and the Soviet Union. The European Space Agency has sent several landers to Mars, but all have crashed.
In October, Tianwen-1 sent back selfies from its trip, when it was roughly halfway to Mars. When it lands in May, it will touch down on Utopia Planitia, a vast impact plain, which it will explore with photographs, ground-penetrating radar, and a host of devices for analyzing the contents of the Martian soil.