China is rolling out an enormous antenna as a Tianwen-1 Mars probe, which is about to enter orbit round Mars

China’s first Mars mission is about to go into orbit around the red planet. Since the spaceship is 400 million kilometers from Earth, communication is vital. So Chinese scientists prepared huge satellite dishes to collect signals from the red planet.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This antenna in northern China covers an area equivalent to about 10 basketball courts. The bowl has a diameter of 70 meters and weighs 2,450 tons. The shell contains 1,328 high-precision panels and has an area of ​​4,560 square meters.

Construction of the antenna began in October 2018. It was to be the largest fully steerable antenna in Asia. The antenna is supposed to receive data from Mars. The National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), the operator of the dish, took over the antenna on February 3rd.

How the satellite dish works

Li Hongwei, deputy director of the 39th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, told CGTN that new developments had been implemented in the construction of the antenna.

It took more than an hour to lift and install. Debugging of the antenna body and equipment can be further improved.

Li Chunlai, the deputy chief designer of China’s Mars exploration project, told the South China Morning Post that the signals would reach the panels under the feet of the antennas first. They will bounce the signals back to a reflector and back to the signal feed to amplify the weak signals. The scientists can then transmit and process the signals.

When signals travel this distance, their energy is attenuated and the signal density decreases. That means scientists would get less energy per unit area. Experts therefore need a bowl with a large surface area to collect enough energy.

ALSO READ: China Tianwen-1 Shares First Images of Mars

The movable antenna can be rotated and steered to watch Mars change its position in the sky. The new facility in Tianjin connects several smaller diameter courts across the country to keep space operations going.

It will constellate with two antennas from Beijing’s Miyun District and one from Yunnan Province in southwest China to collect data from the Red Planet.

Li added that their Mars probe would be a “meaningless bug” if they couldn’t get scientific exploration data from Mars.

About China Tianwen-1 sample

The pair are expected to enter Mars orbit on Wednesday, February 10 (7:00 a.m. EST / 8:00 p.m. Beijing time). In May, a rover will be deployed to explore Utopia Planitia on the surface of the Red Planet. The five-ton Tianwen-1 spacecraft consists of both an orbiter and a rover.

Tianwen-1 will begin training the mission’s rover for a later attempt to land after entering orbit, which is scheduled for around May.

In preparation for landing, the Tianwen-1 orbiter photographs the landing field. The spacecraft’s high-resolution camera delivered a beautiful image of Mars from a distance of 2.2 million km on Friday (February 5).

ALSO READ: NASA’s asteroid camera detects China’s Tianwen-1 en route to Mars

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