Beijing – China is preparing to launch its first Mars probe by 2020. Even though it won’t be the first Asian country sending a mission to Mars, scientists hope that the comprehensive mission will start at a higher level than India, the first Asian nation to have reached there.
China announced earlier in March about its plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020. Ye Peijian, an aerospace expert, said the preparation for the launch in 2020 is underway and the probe is expected to arrive on Mars in 2021.
China’s first solo attempt will involve an orbiter, lander and a rover, which will be similar in scale and technology to Nasa’s Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers. Also, the probe is being developed by the team that completed the Chang’e-3 lunar probe, which successfully soft-landed on the Moon in late 2013.
“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,” says Jia Yang, the deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-3.
Indian mission to the red planet
Not only is India the only Asian nation to reach Mars, it is also the first country in the world to do so in its original attempt. More impressive yet, its mission, called Mangalyaan, was one of the cheapest interplanetary missions ever.
The Asian country Mars Orbiter Mission, entered the red planet’s orbit in September 2014, almost a year after its launch, and catapulted India into the exclusive club of nations to reach Mars, along with the Soviet space programme, NASA, and the European Space Agency.
More details of China’s 2020 Mars mission
As landing in the red planet means a great challenge, the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said the Mars lander will carry a gasbag, a parachute and reverse thrust engines in order to achieve a safe landing.
CAST officials have made other announcement about the mission. China’s Mars probe will spend about 10 months in space 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.
Wu Ji, director of the National Space Science Centre in Beijing said in February that the orbiter will have on board space particle detectors and cameras capable of detecting methane, the presence of which may indicate biological processes occurring on Mars. It will also have radar sensor equipment allowing it to observe the Martian surface and ionosphere.
As for the rover, Jia said that given the challenging distances and times involved in communicating with a Mars mission, it should be able to sense the environment, plan its route, conduct scientific exploration and detect faults autonomously. It will also carry ground-penetrating radar that could reveal a much about the past and present of Mars.