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China Unveils Plans to Send Spacecraft to Jupiter and Uranus




I2,300 years ago, the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan wrote the poem “Tianwen” or “Heavenly Questions”. Only now is China’s Tianwen spacecraft embarking on flights designed to come up with some heavenly answers. As reports, those missions are becoming increasingly ambitious.

In 2020, the Tianwen 1 spacecraft was launched to Mars, carrying the Zhurong rover, which successfully landed on the surface of the red planet in May 2021. Already, China has announced plans to launch Tianwen 2 on a typical return mission to the nearly-Earth asteroid Kamo ‘oalewa in 2025, and then with Tianwen 3, I flew a sample from the return to Mars mission in 2028.

But just this week, at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, China went even further, revealing plans for an ambitious double-planet mission to Tianwen 4 early in the 2030s. The mission will include two spacecraft, the largest of which will be a target Jupiter and will enter Orbiting around the Jovian moon Callisto. Then a second, smaller spacecraft flies onto Uranus.

Nine NASA spacecraft have either flown near or orbited Jupiter, although none of them orbited any of its moons. Only one spacecraft, NASA’s Voyager 2, was able to explore Uranus, flying close to the planet in 1986. The two Chinese spacecraft could also fly around an asteroid on their way to the outer solar system, although this possibility has yet to be determined.

“The scientific objectives are still being studied,” Wang Qiong of the China National Space Administration told Beijing came into the space game late — especially compared to the United States and the old Soviet Union. But it certainly makes up for that lost time now.

This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter that covers all things. You can register here.


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write to Jeffrey Kluger at [email protected]


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