The Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket to lift China’s Tianwen 1 Mars probe was moved to its launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province on Friday morning, according to the China National Space Administration.
The administration said in a statement that the rocket was moved out of its testing complex at around 8 am and spent nearly two hours on the tracks toward the launch pad.
It will blast off in due course between late July and early August to transport Tianwen 1, or Quest for Heavenly Truth 1, to an Earth-Mars transfer trajectory, the statement noted.
Next, engineers will conduct final examinations and then pump in the propellants before the launch, it added.
The Long March 5, the biggest and most technologically sophisticated rocket in China, was transported by ships to Hainan in May and was assembled and tested at the Wenchang center, the only coastal launch facility in the country.
Tianwen 1, the nation’s first independent Mars exploration program, was approved by the government in January 2016 and is intended to orbit the red planet and land a rover on the Martian surface for scientific operations.
The farthest distance between the Earth and Mars is about 400 million kilometers while the nearest is 55 million km, so a probe will travel about seven months before it reaches the Martian atmosphere.
The Chinese probe consists of three parts – the orbiter, the lander and the rover – and they will separate in Mars’ orbit. The orbiter will stay in the orbit for scientific operations and signal relay while the lander-rover combination will make an autonomous descent and landing.
The rover, which is expected to become the world’s seventh of its kind and the first from Asia, has six wheels and four solar panels and carries six scientific instruments. It is more than 200 kilograms in weight and will work about three months on the planet, designers said.