China has announced plans to launch a probe to visit Mars in 2020, and accompanied the statement with the release of pictures showing how the probe will look.
Ambitious plans from CNSA
On Tuesday, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced plans for the latest initiative within its ambitious space program.
Visiting Mars is not a new desire for China. In November 2011, Yingho-1 was launched in Kazakhstan, in conjunction with Russia. Yingho-1 was supposed to visit Mars’ moon Phobos and orbit Mars for two years, studying the Red Planet’s surface, magnetic field and atmosphere. Unfortunately, technical difficulties meant the mission failed, and 9 days after launch, the probe was declared lost by CNSA and ultimately disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean on re-entry to earth in January 2012 .
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Plans to become Aerospace power
China has become increasingly keen to be seen as a player in global space exploration. President Xi has implemented the country’s first ‘Space Day’ (April 24th) and issued a rallying cry to scientists to offer assistance to the country’s continuing efforts. Xi told the state-run news agency Xinhua, “In establishing Space Day, we are commemorating history, passing on the spirit, and galvanizing popular enthusiasm for science, exploration of the unknown and innovation, particularly among young people.”
He added, “Becoming an aerospace power has always been a dream we’ve been striving for.”
In 2003 they became the third nation (behind the United States and Russia) to launch a human into space. China has also landed a rover (Jade Rabbit) on the moon, and earlier this month launched the first quantum-enabled communication satellite into space.
China has looked to increase its status in the world, (think Beijing Olympics 2008), and this probe fits into this wider strategy. Director of CNSA, Xu Dazhe, told Xinhua in April that, “the probe is expected to orbit the red planet, land and deploy a rover all in one mission, which is quite difficult to achieve.”
He added, “Only by completing this Mars probe mission can China say it has embarked on the exploration of deep space in the true sense.” China are clearly not just dipping their toes into the space exploration field, but plan to be major players for the foreseeable future.
Xinhua has stated the probe is likely to weigh 200 kilograms (440 pounds) and operate using solar power. The rover will be equipped with various instruments to provide data back to Beijing including a ground penetrating radar and a remote-sensing camera.
The plan is for the rover to try to land in the northern hemisphere of the Red Planet, which has more conducive conditions for learning about the planet, despite there being less access to solar energy.
At the moment it is only NASA that has managed to land a probe onto the surface of Mars. There is a scheduled mission by a joint EU and Russia team that launched in March this year and should reach the planet by the end of the year if there are no complications. China will be third assuming all things go to plan.
Infinity and beyond…
Following the failure of the Yingho-1 mission, people will be eager to see how successful this mission will be. China has more ambitious plans in the pipeline and should this go well then we will see more and more impressive adventures from the Asian powerhouse. There are rumored plans of a mission to land a crew on the moon in 2036, which would be the first of its kind since 1972 when NASA ended the Apollo program.