More than half a year after its launch, the Chinese probe Tianwen-1 is set to enter orbit around Mars on Wednesday.
The spacecraft has a breaking manoeuvre intended to ensure that the un-crewed spacecraft is caught by the Red Planet’s gravity.
The five-ton spacecraft, the name of which translates as “Heavenly Questions,” consists of an orbiter, a lander and a vehicle the size of a golf cart.
It aims to explore the Martian environment and search for hints of life on Earth’s neighbour.
Several countries have their sights set on Mars.
On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope space probe entered Mars’ orbit, making the UAE the first in the Arab world to launch a successful interplanetary mission.
The UAE is the fifth nation to achieve the feat, which aims to study the planet’s atmosphere.
On Feb. 18, NASA’s latest Mars rover Perseverance is to descend through the Martian atmosphere to study the planet’s surface.
The rover is also carrying a helicopter drone named Ingenuity, which could become the first craft to fly on another planet.
China’s Tianwen-1 is expected to orbit Mars for another two or three months before it attempts its risky landing.
While the orbiter will remain “parked” in Mars’ orbit, relaying information to Earth, the lander will plunge into the atmosphere at 48,000 kilometres per second amid temperatures of thousands of degrees Celsius.
If successful, China could become the second country to land and operate a rover on Mars after the United States.
With its first Mars landing, the new space power wants to catch up with the U.S., which has already sent several research devices to roam the planet.
Beijing has steadily expanded its space programme over the past few years and has missions planned for decades into the future.
In 2019, China became the first country to land an object on the far side of the moon.
The country’s space exploration plans include building a space station and sending a mission to Jupiter by 2029.
China, the UAE and the U.S. all launched their Mars mission around the same time last July.
The reason was that Earth and Mars align more closely every 26 months, providing a window of opportunity for more fuel-efficient journeys and, inadvertently, for an international showdown in space.