China aims to launch a rover of its own to the Red Planet by 2020. New images surfaced on Wednesday giving a glimpse of what the rover might look like. Along with the new images, China announced a competition for members of the public to give a name and logo to the rover.
Mission Mars by 2020
China is spending billions on its space program and is working hard to catch up with the U.S. and Europe. In April, it announced that its aim is to send a spacecraft to orbit Mars sometime around 2020. It is hoped that the rover would be capable of sending back data on the Red Planet’s soil, atmosphere and other features, such as any ice or water it finds.
Citing Ye Peijian, a mission consultant, Xinhua reported that a Long March-5 carrier rocket will be dispatched from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan. The journey will last seven months, at the end of which the lander will separate from the orbiter and touch down near the Martian equator, where the rover will explore the surface. It will carry 13 sets of equipment, including a ground-penetrating radar for studying the inner structure, soil and environment of Mars and a remote sensing camera.
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China the fifth country to orbit Mars?
The chief architect of the project, Zhang Rongqiao, said they were targetingJuly or August 2020, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Rongqiao added, “The challenges we face are unprecedented.”
Despite the many technical hurdles, Mars is increasingly becoming the focus of space exploration. One such hurdle doomed a 2011 Chinese Mars probe traveling on a Russian spacecraft, according to the BBC. The U.S., India, Russia/USSR and Europe already orbit Mars, so China would probably be the fifth country to do so if the mission is on time and successful.
China was the third country that succeeded in landing a rover on the Moon. The U.S. is so far the only country that has successfully landed a rover on Mars, but a joint European-Russian mission is on its way. Previously, a British-led attempt ended in failure, noted the BBC.
Mars rover: a butterfly-like design
China’s Mars rover looks like a delicate insect with four solar wings extending around the central body, notes CNET. It weighs about 440 pounds or 200 kilograms, much less than NASA’s Curiosity rover, which weighs around 2,000 pounds or 900 kilograms. In design, China’s rover will be close to NASA’s earlier, smaller rovers named Spirit and Opportunity, notes CNET.
China’s rover will spend three Martian months exploring an area in the planet’s northern hemisphere. NASA has its Curiosity rover located near the planet’s equator, while the Opportunity rover is in the southern hemisphere. Despite sharing a planet that clocks in at half the diameter of Earth, it’s unlikely the rovers will ever meet, says CNET.
In 2013, China’s lunar rover that landed on the moon was called “Jade Rabbit,” so the new rover could possibly have an animal’s name as well, suggests CNET.