China’s Mars Orbiter Takes Selfies From Outer Space

An image of the Tianwen-1 orbiter orbiting above the Martian surface
A close-up shows Tianwen-1’s gold body, a solar array that powers the craft, and various antennas in full with Mars as its backdrop. China National Space Administration

The China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) Tianwen-1 mission orbiter has pinged Earth with new remarkable images of Mars. The photos included a few cosmic selfies of the spacecraft above the planet’s signature scarlet surface and a view of its northern ice cap, reports Andrew Jones for Space.com. The images also provided scientists with an update on how well Tianwen-1 is working after one year in space.

“The orbiter is currently orbiting Mars in very good condition. We can see our orbiter flying around Mars in a working state, and we can clearly see the solar panel wings, directional antenna, and some of the antenna facilities in orbit,” CNSA told state media, per Space.com.

The images released on New Year’s Day were snapped using a mini camera that floated away from the spacecraft. After taking the photos, the camera sent the images to Tianwen-1 via Wi-Fi, reports Robert Lea for Newsweek.

An image of Mars' northern polar ice cap, The polar ice cap appears as a white swirl against the planet's rust colored surface.
The Red Planet’s northern ice cap appears as a white swirl against the planet’s rust colored surface.
  China National Space Administration

A close-up shows Tianwen-1’s gold body, a solar array that powers the craft, and various antennas in full with Mars as its backdrop. Northern ice caps on the Red Planet appear as frosty, spiral troughs, reminiscent of Earth’s North Pole. Photos shared on social media gathered attention from engineers from other space agencies and journalists interested in Mars photography, per Space.com.

“Wow! This is yet another surprise from the Tianwen-1 mission. The orbiter had apparently released a small sub-satellite while in Mars orbit, returning these outrageous images,” Andrew Jones, a correspondent who tracks China’s space program, wrote on Twitter.

CNSA’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft was launched in July 2020. While on its way to the Red Planet’s orbit in October 2020, the spacecraft also snapped a selfie while in deep space using the same method of deploying a small camera. In the October images, China’s Mars rover Zhurong was still attached to the orbiter, Space.com reports. CNSA also captured the small camera as it tumbled into the vast darkness of space during this event.

Tianwen-1 reached Mars in February 2021, and soon after entering its orbit, it deployed the Zhurong rover in May 2021, Space.com reports. 

A close up image of the Tianwen-1 orbiter in space
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft was launched into space in July 2020 but arrived to Mars in February 2021.
  China National Space Administration

“On May 22, the Chinese rover Zhurong traveled onto the Martian soil, becoming the sixth rover on Mars, following five predecessors from the US,” the CNSA said in a statement. “As of Saturday morning, the 1.85-meter-tall, 240-kilogram Zhurong had worked on Martian land for 224 days – far outliving its three-month life expectancy. The rover had traveled more than 1,400 meters.”

In the report, the CNSA also stated that the Tianwen-1 has obtained and transmitted almost 540 gigabytes of data. The rover is in good condition with enough energy to continue its mission.

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