China’s space probe sends back first image of Mars

BEIJING (AFP) – China’s Tianwen-1 probe has sent back its first image of Mars, the national space agency said, as the mission prepares to touch down on the Red Planet later this year.

The spacecraft, launched in July around the same time as a rival US mission, is expected to enter Mars orbit around February 10.

The black-and-white photo released late Friday by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) showed geological features including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris, a vast stretch of canyons on the Martian surface.

The photo was taken about 2.2 million kilometres from Mars, according to CNSA, which said the spacecraft was now 1.1 million kilometres from the planet.

The robotic craft ignited one of its engines to “make an orbital correction” Friday and was expected to slow down before being “captured by Martian gravity” around February 10, the agency said.

The five-tonne Tianwen-1 includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet’s soil.

China hopes to ultimately land the rover in May in Utopia, a massive impact basin on Mars.

An image of Mars captured by China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1. PHOTO: AFP