China’s Tianwen-1 probe entered the orbit of the planet Mars on Wednesday, state media said, after it launched from southern China last July.
It is the latest step in Beijing’s ambitious space programme, which aims to establish a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually put a man on the moon, and has opened up a new, extraterrestrial arena for US-China competition.
Tianwen-1 launched around the same time as a rival US mission, and is expected to touch down on the Red Planet in May.
Its success comes the same week as the United Arab Emirates’ “Hope” probe also successfully entered Mars’ orbit — making history as the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
Billions of dollars have been poured into space exploration as China seeks to assert its rising global stature and growing technological might.
If the final landing is successful, Tianwen-1 will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover on its maiden mission to Mars, Chi Wang, head of the National Space Science Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a research note.