China Aims for Mars Exploration

China Aims for Mars Exploration

The mission will include an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

2020 Launch Opportunity Targeted as China Aims for Mars 

For the last several months, there have rumors that China has reportedly been preparing for a 2020 Mars mission, but now the Chinese Academy of Sciences has confirmed their intentions.

​A probe is being prepared for the 2020 launch opportunity, which means it will probably launch in July or August, and is expected to arrive in 2021.

According to ​Ye Peijian , an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences:

Although we are not the first Asian nation to send a probe to Mars, we want to start at a higher level,.

The probe will include three elements: an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

The orbiter will conduct global surveys of Mars, while the lander will deliver the rover to the surface. According to Ye, parachutes and reverse thrust engine technologies will be used in the landing to ensure a safe and secure touchdown.

Ye, leader of the development team with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), added:​

We have less than five years till the launch, but we are confident. The probe is being developed by the team that completed the Chang'e-3 lunar probe.

A 3D demonstration video from CAST shows how the Mars probe will fly about 10 months before closing on the red planet. Controllers on Earth will guide it into a large elliptical orbit and the orbiter and lander will separate. The orbiter will stay in orbit for at least a year to photograph key areas and monitor the planet's environment.

Zheng Yongchun, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatory, says that combining orbiting exploration and a roving probe in one mission is a rational choice for starting Mars exploration at a high level.

The best and most direct method to look for evidence of life on Mars is to explore the surface. Mars will be a key focus of China's deep space exploration in the future.
Canberra complex

The Canberra complex - part of NASA's Deep Space Network

Communicating with the Mars probe will be a challenge, however. NASA has the Deep Space Network, which has been built over several decades, to communicate with its probes, but China does not yet have the same capability.

According to Zheng, without  robust network like NASA's, China will need to develop a long-life, powerful relay communication device on the orbiter, itself -- something they did not have to worry about with their lunar rover Yutu (which translates to Jade Rabbit), which China sent to the moon at the end of 2013.

And that's just one way the Mars rover will differ from Yutu. What other differences can we expect?

Perhaps the most important thing, as China aims for Mars, will be in the rover's autonomous capability. Round-trip communication between Mars and the Earth could be as long as 40 minutes, so most of the time, the rover will have to deal with things on its own.

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Chang'e-3 lunar probe, stated:

The Mars rover should be able to sense the environment, plan its route, conduct scientific exploration and detect faults autonomously. It should be a mobile intelligence.

But In addition to the communication problems, Chinese space experts say they face a lot of technological hurdles in developing the Mars rover, including solar panel design and protection from the harsh elements of the Martian surface -- technologies more closely in line with the American rovers Spirit and Opportunity rather than the more advanced Curiosity rover 

NOTE: Curiosity uses a nuclear battery (a Radioactive Thermal Generator, or RTG). The Chinese Mars rover will use solar power.​

In fact, a prototype model of the China Mars rover was displayed back in 2014 at the Airshow China 2014 that, at about 2 meters long and equipped with six wheels, looked quite similar to these rovers. 

It's a proven design.

As Jia added:

Exploring the red planet and deep space will cement China's scientific and technological expertise. The knock-on effect is that innovations and independent intellectual property rights will surge, and, as a result, China's core competence will increase, pushing development in other industries,.

What are your thoughts as China aims for Mars? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

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