China has unveiled its design schematics for its Mars exploration probe and rover. The mission is supposed to take place in 2020.
China has already had a successful Moon landing, in 2013. It was the first probe to land on Earth’s satellite in nearly 35 years.
This is not China’s first attempt to bring a space probe Mars. In 1971, the Chinese successfully landed Mars 3, a relatively simplistic Mars exploration probe. Unfortunately, the probe failed to transmit information back to Earth, possible due to the powerful Martian sandstorms.
In 2011, there was another attempt to study Mars. The Yinghuo-1 probe left Earth on a Russian space craft. Its mission was to orbit Mars for a period of 2 years, to study the planet’s surface and atmospheric conditions.
The Mars exploration probe was going to leave with the Russian Fobos-Grunt, a spacecraft whose mission was to study one of Mars’ moons, Phobos.
The Russian spacecraft failed to perform the two burns necessary to leave Earth’s orbit. As a result, both crafts remained stranded in orbit. A week later, Chinese officials declared the probe lost.
This 2020 mission is much more ambitions. The Chinese are planning to send a probe, and land a rover on Mars, all in one go.
China’s interest in landing on Mars is part a much broader plan of reform. Right now, China’s economy relies on goods manufacturing. And it’s going quite well, but the Chinese government hope that, by 2020, the country will become a knowledge-based economy.
When it comes to space exploration, the Chinese have made tremendous improvements in a relatively short time. In 2003, they became the third country to send a man in space, on one of their own aircrafts, after the US and the Soviet Union. Since then, China has managed to bring 9 other people into space.
Mars Exploration Crafts Face Great Challenges
The Mars exploration rover is going to weigh around 441 lbs. It has six wheels, and uses four solar panels to power up.
It’s going to take the spacecraft around 7 months to reach Mars. Once there, the rover is going to spend around 3 Martian months studying the planet (for comparison, a Martian solar day, also known as a sol, is equivalent to around 24h 39min on Earth).
The average Martian temperature on the planet’s surface is about -67F. However, because the planet is quite large and has an elliptical orbit, temperatures vary quite a lot across its surface, from -207F, in the north, to 80F during summer days.
The Mars exploration rover will land in the northern hemisphere. Even though there is less sunlight in that area to power it up, the northern region of Mars consists mostly of plains, which are easy to navigate. By contrast, the southern hemisphere is mostly jagged mountains and canyons.
Apart from logistic difficulties, Chinese scientists must confront political ones as well. Specifically, the USA remains skeptical regarding China’s intents.
The Chinese space program is led by the military, which is why the USA government refuses to cooperate with China in regarding their space missions.
China is also banned from using the International Space Station. Even though Chinese officials have repeatedly stated that this mission is a purely scientific one, Americans are still keeping an eye on them.
Image Source: Wikimedia