China’s space probe sends back the first image of Mars, landing scheduled for this year

China’s Tianwen-1 probe has sent back its first image of Mars, the National Space Agency said as it prepares to hit the Red Planet later this year.

The spacecraft, which was 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 showed geological features including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris, a large stretch of canyons on the surface of Mars.

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

The robotic ship turned on one of the engines to “make a correction in orbit” on Friday and was expected to slow down before being “captured by Mars gravity” around February 10, the agency said.

The fifteen-ton Tianwen-1 includes a Mars orbit, a lander and a rover that will study the Earth’s soil.

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

Billions of dollars

After seeing the United States and the Soviet Union lead the way during the Cold War, China has poured billions of dollars into its military-led space program.

It has made great strides in the last decade, sending a human into space in 2003.

The Asian power plant has laid the foundation for assembling a space station in 2022 and gaining a permanent foothold in the Earth’s orbit.

But Mars has so far proved to be a challenging target, with most missions that the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and India sent to the planet since 1960 and ended in failure.

Tianwen-1 is not China’s first attempt to reach Mars.

An earlier mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely when the launch failed.

China has already sent two rovers to the moon. With the second, China became the first country to successfully land on the other side.

All systems on the Tianwen-1 probe are in “good condition”, CNSA said on Friday.