China launches its first unmanned mission to Mars

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A Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China's Hainan Province on July 23, 2020. (AFP / Noel Celis)
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People watch a Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, lifting off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan Province on July 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 July 2020

China launches its first unmanned mission to Mars

  • Probe expected to reach Mars in February
  • China to attempt landing on surface of Mars, deploy rover

WENCHANG, China: China successfully launched an unmanned probe to Mars on Thursday in its first independent mission to another planet, in a display of its technological prowess and ambition to join an elite club of space-faring nations.
China’s largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5 Y-4, blasted off with the probe at 12:41 p.m. (0441 GMT) from Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan.
In 2020, Mars is at its closest to Earth, at a distance of about 55 million km (34 million miles), in a window of about a month that opens once every 26 months.
The probe is expected to reach Mars in February where it will try to land in Utopia Planitia, a plain in the northern hemisphere, and deploy a rover to explore for 90 days.
If successful, the Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven,” the name of a poem written two millennia ago, will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission.
Since 1960, half of all the 50-plus missions to Mars including flybys had failed, due to technical problems. Only a handful attempted to land on the planet.
Challenges multiply for those attempting a landing — from ensuring a precise deceleration of the spacecraft to navigating the planet’s sometimes violent atmosphere.
“The mission must necessarily be challenging, and not be following in the footsteps of others completely,” Liu Tongjie, mission spokesman, told Reuters after the launch in an interview.
“This is an exploration project, so there will be no 100% assurance of success. If the mission is unsuccessful, or if there are problems, we will continue to push ahead, re-establish the project, and re-commit.”
China previously made a Mars bid in 2011 with Russia, but the Russian spacecraft carrying the probe failed to exit the Earth’s orbit and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean.
Eight spacecraft — American, European and Indian — are currently either orbiting Mars or on its surface, with other missions underway or planned.
The United Arab Emirates launched a $200 million mission to Mars on Monday, an orbiter that will study the planet’s atmosphere.
The United States’ upcoming 2020 mission costs more than $2 billion.
Liu declined to give a cost estimate for China’s mission, but said expenses have been “very economical” when spread out over the six years since research and development began in 2014.

New Sino-US frictions?
The next US mission may be launched as soon as end-July. The probe will deploy a rover called Perseverance, the biggest, heaviest, most advanced vehicle sent to the Red Planet by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
NASA’s InSight is currently probing the interior of Mars on a plain called Elysium Planitia. Curiosity, a car-sized rover deployed by NASA, is studying soil and rocks in Gale Crater, searching for the building blocks of life.
Asked if Tianwen-1 would present new frictions with the United States, Liu told Reuters the Chinese mission is a scientific exploration project not to compete with anyone but cooperate with each other.
“From our point of view, Mars is large enough for multiple countries to explore and carry out missions,” Liu said in an interview, when asked if there was a chance the Chinese rover would meet with Curiosity and InSight.
China’s probe will carry 13 scientific instruments to observe the planet’s atmosphere and surface, searching for signs of water and ice.
“Scientists believe there was an ancient ocean in the southern Utopia Planitia. At a place where an ancient ocean and land meet, scientists hope to make a lot of discoveries,” Liu said.


Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

This picture taken on October 13, 2019 shows Indonesian migrant workers gathering near Victoria Park in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

  • $260m revenue boost to accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery amid pandemic

JAKARTA: After a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesia is set to send almost 90,000 migrant workers to overseas countries, including those in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

The move will deliver almost 3.8 trillion rupiahs ($260.8 million) in foreign remittances, officials said.

Migrant workers could begin leaving within weeks after the Manpower Ministry issued guidelines to conform with the country’s pandemic protocols.

“In order to boost the national economic recovery and considering that several countries have reopened to foreign workers, we think it is necessary to allow Indonesian migrant workers to work in destination countries, while complying with health protocols,” Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah told a press conference.

She said migrant workers whose employment had been suspended in recent months could generate about 3.8 trillion rupiahs in revenue and their remittances could accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery, especially in their hometowns and villages.

Fauziyah said the decision was made after consultation with domestic stakeholders and was based on updates from Indonesian embassies and trade missions abroad.

The government focused on 14 countries — Algeria, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Maldives, Nigeria, the UAE, Poland, Qatar, Taiwan, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe — that wanted to welcome foreign workers back, despite the pandemic.

“We appreciate the ministry’s decision to lift the suspension, even though the reopening is still only to several countries,” Kausar Tanjung, secretary-general of Indonesian Labor Exporters Association (APJATI), told Arab News.

Most APJATI members are exporters of domestic and informal workers, who make up more than half of the 88,973 migrant workers whose departures to 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had been put on hold since March.

Ayub Basalamah, chairman of APJATI, said that it was time the March ministerial decree was revoked, adding that the association was “ready to comply with the health protocols in place” as part of the new rule.

The ministry said that Kuwait is willing to welcome workers from Indonesia in all formal sectors except health, while Algeria is opening its construction sector and Qatar its oil and gas sector. Indonesian workers in Turkey and the UAE will be allowed to work in the hospitality sector.

Placement of Indonesia’s migrant workers in the UAE is in line with a temporary travel corridor agreed between the two countries.

The agreement was announced last week to help business people, government officials and diplomats, and is based on a $22.9 billion investment deal signed during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January this year.

The APJATI said it will send domestic workers with secure employment to Hong Kong and Taiwan soon, while neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam remain closed to foreign workers in the informal sector.