19:50 GMT31 October 2020
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    China’s Long March-5 carrier rocket arrived at the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern Hainan Province on Friday, in preparation for China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission, which will begin between late July and early August.

    According to state media outlet CGTN, engineers and technicians will conduct final checks and preparations on the rocket before China’s first Mars exploration mission. 

    ​The spacecraft will carry 13 scientific instruments to Mars to examine the planet. The mission will explore how water ice is distributed on Mars as well as the planet’s habitability and physical evolution over time, according to the Scientific American.

    The journey to Mars will take six to seven months, which means that the rocket is expected to reach the red planet some time in February 2021. The orbiter will then spend two to three months above the planet, waiting for the optimal time to release an entry vehicle carrying the project’s rover.

    “The vertical transport of the rocket to the launching area has shown that we have made good preparations for the launching mission. We will stick to the strict and careful working attitude in the coming days,” Ge Xiaochun, chief engineer at the China National Space Administration, is quoted as saying, Space News reported.

    “The Mars probe is the first step of China’s planetary exploration project. The coming launching mission has been highly recognized and supported by the international community. We hope to contribute Chinese wisdom, ideas and solutions to the world for peaceful use of the space,” Ge said.

    NASA’s next Mars rover - named Perseverance - is also expected to launch some time between July 30 and August 15.  

    According to NASA, the “rover will search for signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past and for signs of past microbial life itself.”

    In addition to China and the US, the United Arab Emirates is also planning to take advantage of the period between July 30 and August 15, when Mars’ orbit comes closest to the Earth. The Emirati aircraft, named “Amal,” is scheduled to launch from Japan on Monday, AP reported, and marks the first interplanetary mission for Arab nations.

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