China aims to reach Mars in 2021
Mars is about to get a little more crowded as another space-faring nation revealed its ambitions to send a spacecraft there. The mission is high on China’s priority list as it will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the ruling Communist Party.
“The probe is expected to orbit the Red Planet, land and deploy a rover all in one mission, which is quite difficult to achieve,” said Xu Dazhe, director of China’s National Space Administration (CNSA).
Addressing the crowd at a press conference on Friday, April 22, in Beijing, he revealed the mission was approved by central authorities earlier in January. He added the probe will be sent into space in 2020, when a favorable alignment of Earth and Mars occurs, allowing the spacecraft to reach the Red Planet in about six to 12 months.
The probe is being developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). It will be launched by a Long March 5 rocket. After its interplanetary journey, the probe will be inserted into a large elliptical orbit around Mars to survey the planet from above. The mission will also deploy a lander with a robotic rover to study Mars on the surface.
According to CAST spokesperson Wang Zhongyang, the mission will study Martian climate, surface composition, ionosphere, distribution of water ice, internal structure, topography, and its physical field.
The Mars mission will build upon the experience of the country’s successful Chang’e-3 lunar probe. Chang’e-3 landed on the lunar surface in December 2013 becoming the first spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. The 2013 mission deployed a rover named Yutu, which means “Jade Rabbit”, to study the surface.
“The successful lunar landing laid the foundation for Mars exploration,” said Sun Zezhou, the chief designer of Chang’e-3 and the future Mars mission. “It’s on the Moon’s shoulder that we [have set] our mission objectives at such high level.”
Zezhou admitted that the greatest challenge for the planned Mars probe is the landing process, given that the Martian weather is hard to predict. He expressed worries about possible dust storms that could put landing activities in danger.
So far only the former Soviet Union, the United States, the European Space Agency, and India have successfully sent missions to Mars. If successful, the Chinese probe will be the first to achieve a landing on Mars and deploy a rover on the surface on its maiden mission.
“All in one mission—that’s quite a bold attempt,” Zezhou said.
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