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China is officially going to Mars

Published May 25th, 2020 7:07PM EDT
china mars mission
Image: NASA

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  • China’s Mars mission is scheduled for July as the country ramps up its space exploration efforts
  • Chinese space group CASC is sending an orbiter and rover to the Red Planet in the hopes of finding evidence of past or present life.
  • China is also planning to build a space station and have its own astronauts on the Moon sooner rather than later.

It wasn’t all that long ago that China didn’t seem to care much about space. The country watched The US and Russia dominate space exploration for decades before truly throwing its hat into the ring. Now, following a mission schedule that has proceeded at a breakneck pace, China is poised to launch a new mission to Mars.

The country announced that it believes it will be ready to send its Mars mission skyward in July. Similar to NASA’s Mars missions, China will be sending a rover to the Martian surface in the hopes of uncovering some of the planet’s long-held secrets, including whether or not life has ever taken root there.

Assuming the planned July launch remains on schedule, China’s “Tianwen” spacecraft will spend months cruising through space before eventually arriving at Mars. During this time, there’s not much for Chinese scientists to do but wait and keep their fingers crossed that everything arrives in one piece.

Once it makes it to Mars, the spacecraft will enter orbit around the planet and the robotic rover will be deployed to the surface. It will be China’s first attempt to send a rover to Mars, marking a major milestone for the Chinese space group China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

The orbiter is designed to last roughly one Earth year, though it could be used for longer if it remains viable. The rover, on the other hand, is expected to last just 90 Martian days, or sols. As with the orbiter, the rover could see extended use based on the needs of the researchers and the capabilities of the hardware.

Unlike NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, China’s first Mars rover will rely on solar power. NASA’s Opportunity rover also relied on solar power, ultimately succumbing to a Martian dust storm after remaining operational for many years after its intended end date. Curiosity and Perseverance both use nuclear-based power sources that allow them to remain operational regardless of light conditions.

A trip to Mars is a huge deal for China, especially in light of its recent success in landing a rover on the far side of Earth’s Moon. That successful soft landing was a first not just for China but for mankind, and it was a clear sign that the country is prepared to be ambitious with its space exploration efforts.

Along with the Mars mission, China is planning to have an orbital space station up and running within the next few years and is already hashing out plans for manned missions to the Moon.