China unveils its 2020 Mars mission
On Tuesday, Aug. 23, China released the first images of its ambitious Mars mission, planned to be launched in 2020. The design of the mission was presented at a press conference in Beijing, during which the mission scientists showed off pictures of an orbiter, lander, and rover that will be sent to the Red Planet within four years.
The scientists revealed that the mission is scheduled to be launched in July or August 2020 by a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, located in South China’s Hainan province. The orbiter will reach Mars after a journey of seven months, releasing a lander slated for a touchdown in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere of the Red Planet. After the landing, the spacecraft will deploy a rover designed to explore the Martian surface.
The mission team acknowledged the complexity of the project, underlining challenges that must be faced in order to successfully complete this pioneering venture for China.
“The challenges we face are unprecedented,” said Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of the mission.
Images presented at the press conference show that the Mars rover design will be similar to the country’s Yutu lunar rover, which successfully landed on the Moon in December 2013 as part of the Chang’e 3 mission. The Mars rover will also have six wheels like its lunar predecessor; however, it will be powered by four solar panels instead of two.
China’s Xinhua press agency reports that the 2020 Mars rover will have a mass of about 441 pounds (200 kilograms) and will be designed to be operational for about three Martian months. It will carry 13 payloads including a remote sensing camera and a ground penetrating radar which could be used to study the soil, environment, and atmosphere of Mars, as well as the planet’s physical fields, the distribution of water and ice, and its inner structure.
The radar will be similar to the one aboard the Yutu rover that allowed it image around 1,300 feet below the lunar surface, what delivered crucial information about the composition and history of the moon, such as the evidence of volcanic floods.
During the conference, it was also announced that the China’s State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) has launched a public competition for the name and the logo of the mission.
With the presentation of its first Mars mission, China is showcasing its constantly growing ambitions to explore space. In 2013, it became the third country to successfully soft-land a spacecraft on the Moon, and what is even more significant, it was the first lunar landing in 37 years. Moreover, the nation hopes that the 2020 Mars mission will also serve as a technology demonstrator for an even more ambitious sample return spacecraft to the Red Planet, planned to be sent around 2030.
China also plans to return to human space flight, later this year. Shenzhou-11, a planned crewed mission, is slated to lift off from Jiuquan and dock with China’s upcoming second space lab, Tiangong-2, which should be in orbit by the time the crew’s Shenzhou spacecraft is sent aloft. Tiangong-2 is targeted for September, while Shenzhou-11 is currently scheduled for October.
Recently, the country orbited the Quantum Science Satellite – the world’s first spacecraft expected to achieve quantum communications between space and Earth. It will conduct experiments on high-speed quantum key distribution between the satellite and ground stations and also explore quantum teleportation for the first time in the world.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.