China unveils 2020 Mars rover concept: report

A view from the 'Kimberley' formation on Mars, taken by NASA's Curiosity rover
A view from the 'Kimberley' formation on Mars, taken by NASA's Curiosity rover

China has unveiled illustrations of a Mars probe and rover it aims to send to the Red Planet at the end of the decade in a mission that faces "unprecedented" challenges, state media said on Wednesday.

China, which is pouring billions into its space programme and working to catch up with the US and Europe, announced in April it aims to send a spacecraft "around 2020" to orbit Mars, land and deploy the rover.

Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of the project, said Tuesday they were targeting July or August of that year for the launch, the Xinhua news agency reported.

"The challenges we face are unprecedented," the report quoted him as saying.

A Long March-5 carrier rocket will be dispatched from the Wenchang space launch centre in the southern island province of Hainan, Xinhua said, citing Ye Peijian, a mission consultant.

The lander will separate from the orbiter at the end of a journey of around seven months and touch down near the Martian equator, where the rover will explore the surface, it said.

The 200-kilogramme (441 pounds) rover has six wheels and four solar panels, and will operate for around 92 days, according to Xinhua and other Chinese media reports.

It will carry 13 sets of equipment including a remote sensing camera and a ground-penetrating radar to study the soil, environment and inner structure of Mars and look for traces of water and ice, Xinhua said.

China has an ambitious, military-run, multi-billion-dollar space programme that Beijing sees as symbolising the country's progre
China has an ambitious, military-run, multi-billion-dollar space programme that Beijing sees as symbolising the country's progress and a marker of its rising global stature

China has an ambitious, military-run, multi-billion-dollar space programme that Beijing sees as symbolising the country's progress and a marker of its rising global stature.

The nation's first lunar rover was launched in late 2013, and while it was beset by mechanical troubles it far outlived its expected lifespan, finally shutting down earlier this month.

But for the most part China has so far replicated activities that the US and Soviet Union pioneered decades ago. It has already been beaten to Mars by Asian neighbour India, which put a low-cost probe into orbit around the Red Planet in September 2014.

The US has landed two rovers on Mars and the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have also sent missions to the planet.

China's first attempt to send a satellite into Mars orbit floundered in 2011 when the Russian rocket carrying the payload failed to make it out of the Earth's orbit.


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China targets 2020 Mars mission launch: official

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Aug 24, 2016
"The US has landed two rovers on Mars..."
Not quite correct. Two rovers - Spirit and Opportunity - landed on Mars in 2004. A third rover - Curiosity - landed on Mars in 2012. Two plus one equaled three when I went to school many years ago, and to the best of my knowledge it still does.

Aug 24, 2016
@ MarsBars you forgot Sojourner in 1997.

Aug 24, 2016
That's a big rover.

I'm not seeing any details about how they'll get that thing down to the surface of Mars. It isn't a trivial task.

NASA's hair-on-fire edge-of-your-seat Rube Goldberg approach to landing rovers intact doesn't scale up and is some of the trickiest engineering ever done by anybody. The only other game in town is Space-X, which has shown supersonic propulsive landings can be made to work even in Earth's heavier gravitational field; their approach *does* scale up.

Space-X has been testing its Mars landing concept by landing first-stage boosters on Earth, gaining valuable experience in the process which can be ground back into systems designs. China has never done anything of the sort.

Does China have the engineering chops for either approach? I know they're coming on hard and strong with their space capability, but this looks like a case where their reach may exceed their grasp.

I wish them well, more Mars science is always good, but I'm skeptical.

Aug 26, 2016
"The nation's first lunar rover was launched in late 2013, and while it was beset by mechanical troubles it far outlived its expected lifespan, finally shutting down earlier this month."

That is a rumor from nowhere. [ http://www.planet...bly.html ]

Aug 26, 2016
Torbjorn, landing on the moon is a lot easier than landing on Mars.

How will they do it?

China has shown us nothing by way of testing supersonic retropropulsive landings. They've shown us nothing by way of copying NASA's Rube Goldbergian rover landing method. If you aren't testing landing methods, you aren't getting ready to land a rover.

Aug 27, 2016
Well spotted, @SVCGoodToGo - I'd forgotten about that trail-blazing little critter Sojourner. So that's four NASA rovers successfully landed on Mars, not just two as the article states.

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