UAE space officials congratulate China on launch of its Mars probe

Tianwen-1 is due to enter the red planet’s orbit in February and will attempt a soft landing within 90 days

A Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China's Hainan Province on July 23, 2020. / AFP / Noel CELIS
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Officials from the UAE's space sector congratulated China on the successful launch of its first rover mission to Mars on Thursday.

China’s Long March-5 rocket lifted off the country’s Mars probe into space at 12:41pm (8.41am GST) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in the Hainan province.

The six-wheeled robot, called Tianwen-1, is due to enter the red planet’s orbit in February where it will remain for two to three months before attempting a soft landing on its surface.

The launch took place just days after the UAE made history when its own Hope probe, built by Emirati engineers, soared towards Earth’s outer orbit from its launch site in Japan on Monday.

On Thursday, Dr Ahmad Al Falasi, chairman of UAE Space Agency, told The National the UAE now had two reasons to celebrate.

"Earlier this week, on July 20, the UAE created history when we successfully launched the Arab world's first interplanetary mission with the Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe,” he said.

“Today, we have another reason to celebrate as our partners and colleagues in China at China National Space Administration have launched China’s first Mars exploration mission, #Tianwen-1.

“As with our Hope Probe and the Tianwen-1 mission, we are happy to collaborate with like-minded nations and the space community across the globe to cohesively work and contribute to exploring the Red Planet and fulfilling our scientific objectives, with the ultimate goal of seeking a better future for mankind,” said Dr Al Falasi, who is also Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises.

The UAE Space Agency also separately tweeted its congratulations following the launch and said it was "excited to be exploring Mars alongside this nation".

"The #UAESpaceAgency congratulates the Chinese National Space Administration #CNSA, on the successful launch of China’s first Mars exploration mission, #Tianwen-1 lifted off by a Long March 5 rocket."

If everything goes according to plan with the Tianwen-1 mission, China will be the third country to land, and the second country to rove on Mars.

Both the US and Russia managed to land a rover on the planet in the 1970s, but the Soviet mission lost contact with the craft shortly after landing.

Liu Tongjie, a spokesman for the China mission said if the "deceleration process is not right" when arriving in the vicinity of the planet "the probe would not be captured by Mars".

However, if China does manage to pull off the orbit, landing and deployment of its rover, it will be the first country to do so on its inaugural mission.

The UAE’s Mars mission was the first of three missions scheduled to head to the red planet this summer, with China being the second.

Next week, a third mission, Nasa’s Perseverance rover, is scheduled to lift off from the US.

It is noted as the most advanced vehicle to be sent to Mars by the US Space Agency and it successfully cleared its flight readiness review on Wednesday.

Like the UAE’s orbiter, Tianwen-1 and Perseverance will study the planet's atmosphere looking for signs of water and ice.