Review of orbital images confirms source of largest Mars quake was not an impact

Location of May quake
The white patches mark the locations on Mars of the largest quakes
detected by InSight. The green dotted patch marks this particular 4.7 quake.

Scientists reviewing images from several different orbiters have confirmed that the source of the largest Mars quake detected by InSight, 4.7 magnitude, was not caused by a meteorite impact and thus proves that movement in the interior of Mars is still occurring.

The quake, which had a magnitude of 4.7 and caused vibrations to reverberate through the planet for at least six hours, was recorded by NASA’s InSight lander on Wednesday 4 May 2022. Because its seismic signal was similar to previous quakes known to be caused by meteoroid impacts, the team believed that this event (dubbed ‘S1222a’) might have been caused by an impact as well, and launched an international search for a fresh crater.

…During its time on Mars, InSight (which was co-designed by the University of Oxford) recorded at least 8 marsquake events caused by meteoroid impacts. The largest two of these formed craters around 150m in diameter. If the S1222a event was formed by an impact, the crater would be expected to be at least 300m in diameter. Each group examined data from their satellites orbiting Mars to look for a new crater, or any other tell-tale signature of an impact (e.g. a dust cloud appearing in the hours after the quake).

After several months of searching, the team announced today that no fresh crater was found.

You can read their paper here. To do the survey, the team used data from the American orbiters Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, and also enlisted help from scientists controlling the data from Europe’s Mars Express, China’s Tianwen-1, India’s Mangalyaan, and the United Arab Emirates’ Al-Mal.

The results suggest the quake occurred at “a dip-slip fault in the mid-crust, consistent with an origin between 18 and 28 km depth,” as stated in the conclusion of their paper. More analysis is necessary, but this result proves that the Martian interior still active enough to produce relatively large quakes..

China releases one photo of Phobos taken by its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter

Phobos as seen by Tianwen-1
Click to see original photo.

China today released a single photo of the Martian moon Phobos, taken by its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter, to mark the second anniversary of the orbiter’s launch.

The English press release at the link conveniently did not provide the image to the non=Chinese world, but the Chinese language release did. That picture is to the right, reduced slightly to post here. Considering its disinterest in making it easy to find this photo for English speakers, it is intriguing that China included the English language name Opik for one crater.

Moreover, this single picture release illustrates the paucity of Tianwen-1 photos made available to the public by China. Very few have been released, and though eventually China has been making its raw data available, it has not been doing so in a manner that makes it easy for outsiders to access it.

Nonetheless, this is one of the best pictures of Phobos I have yet seen.

Mars Express successfully relays data from Zhurong to Earth

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter has successfully been used to relay data from China’s Zhurong Mars rover to Earth and then to China.

In November, ESA’s Mars Express and CNSA’s Zhurong teams carried out a series of experimental communication tests in which Mars Express used this ‘in the blind’ mode to listen for signals sent to it by the Zhurong Rover.

The experiments culminated in a successful test on 20 November. “Mars Express successfully received the signals sent by the rover, and our colleagues in the Zhurong team confirmed that all the data arrived on Earth in very good quality.” says ESA’s Gerhard Billig.

Apparently, normal communications would first involve “handshake” communications between the two, but that requires communications frequencies Zhurong does not use. Mars Express instead had to grab the data on the blind. The test was a success, which means the ESA will likely act as another communications relay for Zhurong, in addition to China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter, as the rover’s mission on Mars continues.

Zhurong’s continuing travels on Mars

Zhurong overview map
Click for original map.

This past week the Chinese press released a new but limited update on the status of both its Mars orbiter Tianwen-1 and its Mars rover Zhurong.

The map to the right uses as its background a high resolution picture from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. I have superimposed Zhurong’s route in green. You can get an idea of how far the rover has traveled since resuming communications with Earth in late October by comparing this map with the one I posted then. After stopping at a small sand dune (the crescent-shaped white features), it curved around to head to the southeast towards a rough area and a trough that is thought to be filled with sediment.

Meanwhile, the orbiter has shifted its orbit, changing from one dedicated mainly as providing a communications relay between Zhurong and Earth to one that now allows it to begin a two-year photographic survey of Mars.

To supplement the resulting gaps in communications for Zhurong, China and the European Space Agency (ESA) have made their first test using ESA’s Mars Express satellite as a relay satellite. Both hope to know soon whether it worked.

In either case, Zhurong’s travels will likely be slowed somewhat due to the reduction in communications access.

China resumes communications with Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter

With the Sun no longer between the Earth and Mars, China has re-established communications with its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter.

According to the CNSA [China National Space Administration], the orbiter will enter the remote-sensing orbit of Mars in early November to carry out global detection and obtain scientific data such as morphology and geological structure, surface material composition and soil type distribution, atmospheric ionosphere, and space environment of Mars.

The orbiter will also relay the communication between the rover and Earth for the rover’s extended mission, the CNSA added.

Based on this information, full communications with the rover Zhurong will not resume until November because the orbiter needs to re-adjust its orbit.

China releases more images from Zhurong

Zhurong looking north past its lander
Click for full image.

The new colonial movement: Three weeks after its Mars rover Zhurong rolled off its lander to begin its 90 day mission, China yesterday finally released the first high resolution images taken by the rover.

The images included a 360 degree panorama, taken while the rover was still sitting on the lander, an image of both the rover and lander taken by a mini-camera that was dropped from the bottom of the rover, a picture of some interesting nearby boulders to the east, and a picture looking past the lander looking north.

This last picture is above, reduced and annotated by me. The small flat but distinct hill to the north I think is the nearest pitted cone that could be either a mud or lava volcano. That cone is about 3.75 miles away, and though a very enticing target is probably too far away for Zhurong to reach, unless it survives for years past its planned three-month mission, as did the American rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

The closer small ridges and hills just to its right could be the east and west rims of the nearest large crater, about 650 feet wide with a distorted shape, that is visible in the high resolution orbital images taken by both Tianwen-1 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). This crater is about 1,600 feet away.

Based on these images it appears that once Zhurong rolled off the lander to the east, it immediately turned to the right to move several feet south, where it turned right again to move several feet to the west until it was just to the west of the lander, where it took the picture above. During that last move it dropped the small camera behind it so that it could take the picture showing both the rover and the lander.

These maneuvers and the rover’s position south of the lander and facing west suggest they are going to head to the west, where there are some nearby smaller craters and other interesting features. Whether they eventually go north, with that pitted cone a long term goal should the rover last longer than its planned mission through the end of August, remains entirely unknown.

Zhurong finally located on Mars

Zhurong as seen by MRO
Click for full image.

Though the Chinese had earlier this week released one image taken by their Mars orbiter, Tianwen-1, showing their rover Zhurong on the surface of Mars, they did not provide any specific location information.

This lack has now been filled by a new high resolution image of Zhurong taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on June 6, 2021. This image, cropped to match the Tianwen-1 image and annotated by me to post here, shows the parachute, entry capsule, heat shield, lander, and rover. I have added white dots to distinguish the rover from the lander, which indicate that since the Tianwen-1 orbital image the rover had moved south about 70 feet, suggesting it has been able to travel on the surface.

What this MRO image provides that the Chinese refused to reveal is the latitude and longitude of that landing site, which in turn tells us that the lander put down about 14 miles to the northwest of its targeted landing spot. The mosaic of MRO context camera images below show this landing spot in context with the surrounding terrain.
» Read more

China releases orbital image showing Zhurong on Mars

Zhurong on Mars
Click for original image.

China’s state-run press today released two images taken by its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter showing its Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars.

Those photos are to the right. The top shows the location prior to the rover’s landing. The bottom, taken on June 2nd, shows the rover and its landing platform, as well as its entry capsule, heat shield, and parachutes.

In the image, taken by a high-resolution camera installed on the orbiter of Tianwen-1 at 6 p.m. on June 2 (Beijing Time), two bright spots are visible in the upper right corner. The larger one is the landing platform, and the smaller one is the Zhurong Mars rover, the CNSA said.

…The dark area surrounding the landing platform might be caused by the influence of the engine plume during landing. The symmetrical bright stripes in the north-south direction of the landing platform might be from fine dust when the landing platform emptied the remaining fuel after landing, the CNSA said.

The bright spots in the center of the image are the back cover of the entry capsule and the parachute jettisoned during the landing. Another bright spot in the lower left of the image is the heat shield of the entry capsule, the CNSA said.

Based on the second photo, it appears that Zhurong has barely moved far from the lander since it rolled off on May 22nd.

And that’s all we really know. The Chinese press release provides no details about how well the rover is functioning, where exactly this location is on the surface of Mars, nor anything else of interest. The rover might be in the region covered by the MRO photos I posted yesterday, but if so the resolution isn’t good enough for me to find the spot. I am sure however that MRO scientists are presently carefully comparing their highest resolution version with these Tianwen-1 images to pinpoint it. They will then follow-up with their own high-resolution images of Zhurong from MRO.

The rover has a planned mission length of 90 Martian days, which runs through the end of August. How much the Chinese government will reveal about its operations and results however remains completely unknown. If it functions as planned expect science papers published in about a year. If not we will only get silence.

China’s Zhurong rover successfully lands on Mars

The rover landing site for Tianwen-1's rover

The new colonial movement: China’s today successfully landed its Zhurong rover on the northern lowland plains of Mars dubbed Utopia Planitia.

China’s lander and rover began their descent to the surface at about 4:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) by separating from the Tianwen-1 orbiter, which since March has been used to capture imagery of the targeted landing site for study. An aeroshell protected the stacked probes as they plunged into the atmosphere at 3 miles per second (4.8 km per second), generating tremendous heat in the process.

Once inside the atmosphere, while traveling at supersonic speeds, the spacecraft deployed a 2,150-square-foot (200 sq. meter) parachute to slow its approach to less than 328 feet per second (100 m per second). China based the canopy design on the parachutes it has used on Shenzhou missions to return astronauts to Earth.

Finally, the Tianwen-1 lander fired thrusters similar to the type on China’s Chang’e lunar landers to make the final descent. A laser range finder and a velocity sensor helped guide the craft as it hovered at about 328 feet (100 m) to identify obstacles and measure the slopes of the surface before touching down safely.

We don’t yet know the exact touchdown point. The image above is a mosaic of two wide angle photos from the context camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), with the white cross marking the spot previously leaked by the Chinese press as the landing site. The white box shows the area covered by the only high resolution MRO photo, as of October 2020. Since then MRO has taken a number of additional high resolution images of this area. The red boxes are the areas covered by the only two high resolution images released by China from its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter

Note that the rover is actually not yet on the ground. It still sits on the lander. A ramp will be deployed and it will then roll down on the ground to begin what China says is a planned 90 day mission, with the most important data likely coming from the rover’s ground penetrating radar, looking for underground ice.

China names its Mars rover Zhurong, after traditional fire god

The new colonial movement: The Chinese state-run press today announced that it has chosen Zhurong, a traditional Chinese fire god, as the name of the rover that is presently orbiting Mars on its Tianwen-1 orbiter and is targeting a landing sometime in mid-May.

They note that this name matches well with the Chinese name for Mars, “Huo Xing,” or fire star.

The announcement provided little additional information, other than stating that the prime landing site is in the previously announced Utopia Planitia region, which suggests the high resolutions images being taken by Tianwen-1 (unreleased by China) continue to show no reason to change that target.

Tianwen-1’s engineers set mid-May for rover landing on Mars

The new colonial movement: The science team for China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter are now targeting mid-May for when they will release and land the as-yet unnamed rover for its landing on Mars.

Wang Chi, director of the National Space Science Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said March 23 that Tianwen 1’s lander and rover are scheduled to touch down on Mars in May.

“The first Chinese Mars mission, Tianwen 1, is now orbiting Mars, and we are landing in the middle of May,” Wang said in a presentation to the National Academies’ Space Studies Board. “We are open to international cooperation, and the data will be available publicly soon.” [emphasis mine]

Though China has generally released the scientific data of its lunar probes eventually, they have done it slowly. In the case of Tianwen-1, they released so far practically nothing, with the only images released being two hi-resolution ground images and a handful of distant global pictures of Mars.

NASA in contact with China to get the orbital data of its Tianwen-1 Mars Orbiter

Though by law NASA and the scientists cannot exchange data or communications with China due to security concerns, NASA and Chinese officials did exchange communications recently in order to coordinate the orbits of their orbiters presently circling Mars.

Jurczyk noted that NASA’s knowledge of China’s space program is largely limited to publicly available information because of restrictions placed by federal law on its interactions with Chinese organizations. Those restrictions do allow NASA to engage with China if approved by Congress. “Most recently, we had an exchange with them on them providing their orbital data, their ephemeris data, for their Tianwen-1 Mars orbiting mission, so we could do conjunction analysis around Mars with the orbiters,” he said.

In a brief statement to SpaceNews late March 29, NASA confirmed it exchanged information with the China National Space Administration (CNSA), as well as other space agencies that operate spacecraft at Mars. “To assure the safety of our respective missions, NASA is coordinating with the UAE, European Space Agency, Indian Space Research Organisation and the China National Space Administration, all of which have spacecraft in orbit around Mars, to exchange information on our respective Mars missions to ensure the safety of our respective spacecraft,” the agency said. “This limited exchange of information is consistent with customary good practices used to ensure effective communication among satellite operators and spacecraft safety in orbit.”

Such limited communications are actually permitted under the law that Congress passed, as long as they do not involve any exchange of technical information. There has been a push, however, in the planetary community for years to increase direct communications with China, allowing the transfer of all kinds of information, both scientific and technical. Until the law gets changed none of this should happen.

Of course, what matters laws these days? I will not be surprised if the Biden administration, rather than demanding a change in the law, instead begins expanded communications between NASA and China, in complete and utter contempt for the law, with no one objecting.

Rover update: Panorama from Curiosity; Perseverance unwinds

Summary: Curiosity has crept to the foot of Mt Sharp at last, while Perseverance checks out its equipment.


Curiosity panorama Sol 3049
Click for full resolution.

Overview map

This rover update will be short but very sweet. While the press and public has been oo’ing and ah’ing over the first panorama from Perseverance, Curiosity yesterday produced its own panorama above showing the looming cliffs of Mt. Sharp, now only a short distance away. The original images can be found here, here, here, and here.

The overview map to the right, from the “Where is Curiosity?” webpage, shows the rover’s location, with the yellow lines roughly indicating the view afforded by the panorama above. If you compare this panorama with the one I posted in my previous rover update on February 12, 2021, you can get a sense of how far the rover has traveled in just the past two weeks. It now sits near the end of the red dotted line pointing at the mountain, right next to what had been a distant cliff and now is only a short distance to the rover’s right.

Somewhere on the mountain slopes ahead scientists have spotted in orbiter images recurring slope lineae, seasonal streaks on slopes that appear in the spring and fade as they year passes. As Curiosity arrives at the next geological layer a short distance ahead at the base of these cliffs (dubbed the sulfate unit), it will spend probably several months studying both that sulfate unit as well as those lineae. Expect the rover to drill a few holes for samples as it watches to see any changes that might occur on that lineae.

Now, on to Perseverance!
» Read more

China releases first Tianwen-1 images of rover landing site

The rover landing site for Tianwen-1's rover

The new colonial movement: China yesterday released the first two images taken by its Mars orbiter Tianwen-1 of its planned rover landing site in the northern lowland plains of Mars.

The image to the right is a mosaic of two wide angle photos from the context camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The white cross is the spot of the latitude and longitude that had previously been leaked to the Chinese press as the landing site. The white box shows the area covered by the only high resolution MRO photo, as of October 2020. Since then MRO has taken a number of additional high resolution images of this area.

The red boxes mark the areas covered by Tianwen-1’s two new images. Below is a reduced version of the larger of these two photos.
» Read more

Rover update: The rovers are coming! The rovers are coming!

With the imminent landing on Mars of both the American rover Perseverance only days away on February 18th followed by China’s rover in April, I think it time for a new rover update, not only providing my readers a review of the new landing sites but a look at the most recent travels of Curiosity on Mars and Yutu-2 on the Moon.


Curiosity's view of the base of Mount Sharp, February 12, 2021
Click for full resolution image.

Overview map of Curiosity's most recent and future travels

The panorama above, made from four images taken by Curiosity’s right navigation camera on February 12, 2021 (found here, here, here, and here), looks south to the base of Mount Sharp, now only a short distance away. The yellow lines on the overview map to the right show the area this panorama covers. The white line indicates Curiosity’s previous travels. The dotted red line in both images shows Curiosity’s planned route.

The two white dots on the overview map are the locations of the two recurring slope lineae along Curiosity’s route, with the plan to get reasonable close to the first and spend some time there studying it. These lineae are one of Mars’ most intriguing phenomenon, seasonal dark streaks that appear on slopes in the spring and fade by the fall. There are several theories attempting to explain their formation, most proposing the seepage of a brine from below ground, but none has been accepted yet with any enthusiasm.
» Read more

China’s Tienwen-1 enters Mars orbit

The new colonial movement: China’s Tienwen-1, carrying an as-yet-unnamed lander/rover, successfully inserted itself into orbit around Mars early today.

With a successful Mars Orbit Insertion, the craft has entered a highly eccentric, equatorial capture orbit of the planet, and controllers will now spend two months undertaking initial activations and checkouts in Martian orbit for the primary science mission while altering the craft’s orbit from equatorial to polar.

In April 2021, the lander, with the rover inside, will detach from the orbiter and prepare for Entry, Descent, and Landing. Prior to launch, 23 April 2021 was given as the target landing date.

The landing location is within Utopia Planitia and will — if the orbit insertion burn is completed successfully — utilize a combination of aerobraking, parachute descent, retrorocket firing, and airbag deployments to achieve a soft touchdown on the Martian surface. After landing, the rover will be deployed — ideally on the same day — to begin a planned 90 Sol (Martian day) mission to categorize the local environment.

The suspected landing site in Utopia Planitia is at about 25 degrees north latitude. Though it is in the northern lowland plains, this latitude places it south of the latitudes (greater than 30) that scientists now believe ample ice likely exists underground but accessible. The lander/rover carries radar equipment capable of detecting evidence of underground ice, and will look nonetheless. If it finds any, this will be a significant discovery.

Two down, one to go. Next week, on February 18th, the American rover Perseverance will attempt its landing in Jezero crater.

Tianwen-1 takes first picture of Mars

Mars as seen by Tianwen-1 for the first time
Click for full image.

The new colonial movement: China’s Tianwen-1Mars spacecraft has taken its first picture of Mars, cropped and reduced to post here to the right.

The photo shows Valles Marineris as the darker splotch in the center-right of the hemisphere, with the northern lowland plain that this canyon feeds into, Chryse Planitia, the triangular dark area to the north east. Both Viking-1 and Mars Pathfinder landed in this region. The whitish border area on the triangle’s eastern flank is the area that Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover will hopefully land in ’23.

The whitish area that caps the north pole is likely the annual mantle of dry ice that covers the planet’s polar regions down to about 60 degrees latitude each winter. Right now it is early spring in the northern hemisphere, and that mantle has only begun to sublimate away. In another few months that mantle will disappear entirely, exposing the terrain below it.

Finally, the very bright edge on the planet’s eastern limb is either caused by a cloud layer, or is simply an over-exposure. Hard to say which.

The new invasion of Mars begins next week!

In the next two weeks three spacecraft will arrive at Mars, including two orbiters and two rovers. This post is simply a heads up so that my readers will know what to expect and when to expect it.

First, we have the arrival in Mars orbit of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Hope orbiter on February 9th at 10:30 am (Eastern). The spacecraft was built in a partnership with U.S. universities and the UAE. Once in orbit it will focus on studying the Martian atmosphere.

Next will arrive China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter on February 10th. The exact time it will do its engine burn to enter orbit has not been announced, as far as I can tell. Once in orbit it will begin a four month reconnaissance of the landing site for its presently unnamed rover, which will descend to the surface in May.

Finally, on February 18th at 12:55 am (Pacific) the American rover Perseverance will land in Jezero Crater on Mars. Essentially an upgraded copy of the Curiosity rover, it will land in the same way, lowered by cables from its re-entry sky crane rocket above it. It will then spend years studying the geology of Mars, while also storing samples that a later mission can recover and return to Earth.

All in all February is going to be an exciting month for the exploration of Mars. Stay tuned for some cool stuff!

Ten finalists in public Chinese contest to name Mars rover

The new colonial movement: The Chinese public vote to pick the name of the Mars rover presently flying to Mars on its Tianwen-1 orbiter has now been narrowed to ten finalists.

The public can now vote for their favorites from a shortlist of 10 names for the Tianwen-1 mission rover.

The 10 names — Hongyi, Qilin, Nezha, Chitu, Zhurong, Qiusuo, Fenghuolun, Zhuimeng, Tianxing and Xinghuo — are taken from ideas including Chinese mythological figures, Confucian concepts and legendary animals.

Notably Hongyi, from the Confucian Analects, can be translated to “persistence” or perseverance, giving a similar meaning to the NASA Perseverance rover also heading for Mars. Others meanings include:

Zhurong: a god of fire
Qilin: a Chinese unicorn
Chitu: red rabbit
Qiusuo: to explore, referencing an ancient poem
Zhuimeng: to pursue a dream
Nezha: a mythological hero
Fenghuolun: Nezha’s weapons
Tianxing: referring to the motion of celestial bodies
Xinghuo: spark

Personally, I hope they pick Chitu (Red Rabbit), as that matches nicely with the name of China’s lunar rover, Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit).

Tianwen-1 to arrive in Mars orbit February 10

The new colonial movement: China’s space agency, CNSA, today announced that its first Mars orbiter/lander/rover, Tianwen-1, will arrive in Mars orbit on February 10th, with the lander/rover dropping to the surface in May.

After entering orbit, Tianwen-1 will begin to prepare for a landing attempt of the mission’s rover. The orbiter will begin imaging the main candidate landing site within the huge impact basin Utopia Planitia, to the south of NASA’s Viking 2 landing site.

Getting ready for the attempt will take time however, with CNSA stating that the landing won’t take place until May.

At the moment they say that all systems are working as planned, and that they have one more course correction, the fourth, to do before entering orbit.

China releases images of Tianwen-1 on way to Mars

Tianwen-1 on its way to Mars

China has released several images taken of its Tianwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover by a camera ejected by the spacecraft on its way to Mars.

The images released by the China National Space Administration on Oct. 1 show the Tianwen 1 spacecraft traveling through the blackness of space. Tianwen deployed a small camera to take the self-portrait as it tumbled away from the mothership.

Two wide-angle lenses on the deployable camera were programmed to one image every second. The images were transmitted back to Tianwen via a wireless radio link, then downlinked back to ground teams in China.

In the images, Tianwen 1’s solar array wings and dish-shaped high-gain communications antenna are prominently visible. The white section of the spacecraft is the mission’s entry module and heat shield, which contains a Chinese rover designed to land on Mars and explore the surface.

The spacecraft is about halfway to Mars, and will arrive in Mars orbit in February. It will then spend several months surveying its candidate landing sites, of which there appear to be two, before releasing the lander/rover to the surface.

China announces target launch date for its Tianwen-1 Mars rover

The new colonial movement: According to a new report out of Singapore, China has set July 20-25 as the launch window for its Mars orbiter/lander/rover mission, dubbed Tianwen-1.

Should they meet this date, it means they will launch before Perseverance, arriving at Mars about the same time, in February 2021. And like Perseverance, this launch window closes this summer, and if they can’t meet it they will have to wait two years.

China reveals its space station launch schedule

The new colonial movement: According to its chief designer, China will complete the assembly of its first multi-module space station over a two year period beginning in early 2021.

The first module for the Chinese space station will launch next year, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s human spaceflight program, on the sidelines of a political conference in Beijing Tuesday. Launch of the Tianhe core module on a Long March 5B could take place at Wenchang in early 2021. This will be followed by a crewed Shenzhou flight, from Jiuquan, and a Tianzhou cargo mission. The first of two experiment modules will then launch for docking with Tianhe.

In total 11 launches will be conducted to complete the construction of the space station by around 2023, Zhou said (Chinese). These will be the launch of the core and two experiment modules, as well as four crewed spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft. The intensive launch plan was revealed following the successful test flight of the Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket May 5. The missions will be conducted using Long March 5B, Long March 2F and Long March 7 launch vehicles.

They will first launch in 2020 their Mars Tianwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover and their Chang’e-5 lunar sample mission, both using the Long March 5B rocket.

Unless they experience a launch failure along the way, I expect this schedule to occur, as outlined.

Let’s fantasize: If SpaceX can get Starship/Super Heavy operational by 2023 (the company’s present somewhat unrealistic goal), they could send it up to swallow the station whole and bring it back to Earth, just like a James Bond movie.

China names its 2020 Mars mission

China’s official state-run press today announced that their 2020 Mars mission will be called Tianwen-1, noting that this name will be applied to all further planetary missions.

The link goes to that government state-run press, which provides no further information on Tianwen-1, such as where on Mars its lander/rover will land, its exact launch date, the instruments on board, etc. So far very very few details have been released.

What this propaganda press announcement does do is spout a lot of blather about how wonderful China is, and how we should all be thankful the communists have been in charge there. Here are some snippets to lighten your day:

  • …signifying the Chinese nation’s perseverance in pursuing truth and science
  • …a window for the Chinese public and the world to get a better understanding of China’s aerospace progress.
  • Chinese space engineers and scientists have overcome various difficulties and achieved aerospace development through self-reliance and independent innovation.
  • …promoting human welfare on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, peaceful utilization and inclusive development.

While China’s achievements in space are real (though much of the engineering was stolen or borrowed from others), these propaganda claims are junk and lies. Chinese space engineers are “self-reliant” and have “independence”? Don’t make me laugh. Everything done in their space program is dictated and controlled from the top, by the Chinese government and the Communist Party. No one is free to do anything, without their permission.

As for China’s pursuit of “truth and science”, their behavior during the Wuhan flu epidemic, originating from their country and very possibly caused deliberately or incompetently by them, makes this claim ludicrous on its face. They have lied, arrested scientists, blocked research, and distorted the scope and magnitude of the epidemic from day one.

Even a tiny bit of truth from them, from the beginning, might have prevented the panic that has overtaken the world which in turn appears to have triggered the next great economic depression, what I like to now call the Great Wuhan Depression.