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Tianwen 1 makes orbital correction as Mars arrival draws near

A black-and-white picture of Mars taken by Tianwen 1, the first snapshot from the Chinese craft. [Photo provided by China National Space Administration]

China's Tianwen 1 Mars probe conducted its fourth orbital correction on Friday evening, as the spacecraft makes ready for its arrival in orbit around Feb 10, according to the China National Space Administration.

The robotic vehicle ignited one of its engines at 8 pm to make an orbital correction and ensure it would be flying in the right direction toward the Martian gravitational field, the administration said in a brief statement.

Tianwen 1 has flown for 197 days and more than 465 million kilometers on its journey to the planet. It is now around 184 million km from Earth and 1.1 million km from Mars. Depending on the two planets' orbits, Mars is between 55 and 400 million km from Earth.

The administration also published a black-and-white picture of Mars taken by Tianwen 1 when the probe was about 2.2 million kilometers from the red planet, the first snapshot from the Chinese craft.

Tianwen 1, the country's first independent Mars mission, was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket on July 23 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, kicking off the nation's planetary exploration program.

It will conduct a "braking" operation to decelerate and make sure it will be captured by Martian gravity around Feb 10, said China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the nation's leading space contractor.

The space administration previously said if everything goes according to schedule, the 5 metric ton probe, which consists of two major parts - the orbiter and the landing capsule - will travel more than 470 million km before entering Martian orbit, when it will be 193 million km from Earth.

The spacecraft has already made four midcourse corrections and a deep-space orbital maneuver.

The mission's ultimate goal is to soft-land a rover in May on the southern part of Mars' Utopia Planitia - a large plain within Utopia, the largest recognized impact basin in the solar system - to conduct scientific surveys.(By Zhao Lei |

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