China unveils its Mars 2020 probe and science goals
China has released images of its orbiter, lander and rover for its ambitious 2020 Mars mission, along with details of the scientific instruments to be sent.(see article) Chief architect, Zhang Rongqiao, told the press that the mission will be complex and ambitious, including an orbiter, lander and rover.
The lander will carry a gasbag, a parachute and reverse thrust engines in order to achieve a safe landing, while factors such as the long-distance data transmission delay means that the rover will have a high autonomy.
The science goals include studying the Martian topography, soil, environment, atmosphere and water ice, as well as the planet's internal structure and search for possible signs of life.
The mission will launch on a Long March 5 rocket from the new Wenchang spaceport on the island province of Hainan in summer 2020.
After around seven months and 400m kilometres, the mission will attempt to enter Mars orbit and achieve the orbiting, landing and roving aspects of the mission.
Dr Wu Ji, director of the National Space Science Centre in Beijing which develops space science payloads, revealed to gbtimes 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.
The rover will carry a ground penetrating radar that could reveal a much about the past and present of Mars.
The same instrument allowed China’s Yutu rover to image around 400m below the lunar surface, making intriguing discoveries about the composition and history of the Moon, such as evidence of volcanic floods.
China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) has also opened a public competition for a name and an iconic logo for the mission.
While China's 2020 mission is ambitious, Zhang said that it will also be a demonstration of technology needed for an unprecented Mars sample return mission around 2030.
China has already successfully put a lander and rover on the Moon in late 2013, but a landing on the Red Planet poses greater challenges, as it involves great speeds than a lunar mission, a thin but significant atmosphere, different gravity and an active planetary surface.
Ye Peijian, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says the probe is being developed by the team that completed the 2013 Chang'e-3 lunar lander mission.
While this will be China's first attempt at an independent mission to Mars, China first attempted to reach the Red Planet with Yinghuo-1 on the back of Russia’s exciting Phobos-Grunt mission to return samples from one of the moons of Mars in 2011, but the spacecraft failed to leave Earth orbit.
The country was then stung by the success of neighbours and fellow emergent Asian space power India, when it successfully inserted its ‘Mangalyaan’ probe into orbit around Mars in 2014.
China’s 2020 mission will share the optimal launch window for Mars missions, which occurs roughly every two years, with Nasa’s 2020 Mars mission, a Japan-launched mission for the United Arab Emirates and perhaps also the second European-Russian ExoMars mission.