China just tested its brand new facility to simulate Mars landings and marked a major step in the country's planned march to the Red Planet.
The facility in northern China's Hebei Province includes a tower nearly 460 feet (140 meters) high, a servo system and a Martian surface simulation area.
The highly touted test yesterday (November 14) precedes China launching a Mars Mission 2020 – a project aimed at completing the cycle, landing and roving all at once, according to China's National Space Management (CNSA).
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The latest experiment simulated the weight of Mars, which is about three-eighths of the Earth, to test the lander, China's State Executive Xinhua News Agency reported .
Ambassadors and diplomats from 19 countries including France, Italy and Brazil, as well as representatives of the European Union, the African Union and the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Organization were invited to watch experiments, according to Xinhua.
China needed to build the new facility to simulate landing procedures during March's vital acceleration, Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer for China's first Mars exploration mission, to Xinhua.
A red platform in the middle of the pylons is fixed by 36 steel cables. Through precise control, Xinhua reported, the platform can simulate the Martian gravitational environment.
On the ground below the pylon tower, engineers created slopes and craters to mimic the environment on the Martian surface.
Obstacle avoidance position
According to Xinhua, yesterday's test verified several procedures, including the lander's separation from the spacecraft's main body from a height of 230 meters (70 m); hover at 67 meters above the surface and look for a safe place to touch; and down to 20 meters above the surface in obstacles to avoid obstacles.
Zhang Kejian, administrator for CNSA, told Xinhua that China's Mars exploration program has gone well since its official kickoff in 2016. The hovering and obstacle avoidance test for the Mars lander is a crucial step for the project, Xinhua reported.
Leonard David is the author of the recently published book, " Moon Rush: The New Space Race " published by National Geographic in May 2019. David has been a long time author of Space.com and has reported on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .