China has released on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 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 send 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 seven months of journey, 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, that 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 lbs. (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 onboard 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 technology demonstration for an even more ambitious sample return spacecraft to the Red Planet, planned to be send 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.