Beijing | China has unveiled the designs of its Mars probe and rover to be launched in 2020 as it looks to catch up with India, US, Russia and EU to reach the red planet.
China plans to send a spacecraft to orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover in July or August 2020, official media here quoted Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of the Mars mission as saying.
“The challenges we face are unprecedented,” Ye Peijian, one of China’s leading aerospace experts and a consultant to the programme, said.
The 2020 mission will be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket, the work horse for China’s space missions.
It will be launched from the Wenchang space centre in south China’s Hainan province.
The lander will separate from the orbiter at the end of a journey of around seven months and touch down in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere of Mars where the rover will explore the surface.
Images displayed at yesterday’s press conference showed a device with six wheels, powered by four solar panels, two more than the rover sent to the moon.
Weighing around 200 kgs, it is designed to operate for three Martian months, Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the probe, was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.
The probe, for its part, 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.
A public competition for the name and the logo of the 2020 mission was also launched yesterday.
Though China space programme has achieved several milestones like landing a rover on the Moon, successful manned space missions as well as building a space station which is currently underway, Mars alluded it.
Mangalyaan Mars mission accomplished with a low budget of USD 73 million caught the attention and imagination of Chinese as India reached the red plant well ahead of China.
India became the fourth country after US, Russia and EU to successfully send probes to Mars.
China’s attempts to send an exploratory probe called Yinghuo-1, in a Russian spacecraft in 2011 failed as shortly after the launch it was declared lost and later burnt during re-entry.
This is the first time China revived its Mars mission since then.
Zhang told people.cn the Mars programme will study the planet’s climate, surface, ionosphere, water ice distribution, internal structure, topography and physical field.
Scientists will have to design a rover that can make its own decisions because the distance between Earth and Mars will cause delays in data transmission, Zhang said.
A favourable alignment of Earth and Mars occurs for only a few weeks every 26 months, and 2020 offers that rare opportunity, National Space Administration director Xu Dazhe said.