JUN 26, 2020 3:46 PM PDT

China to Launch First Mars Mission in July

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has announced that it will launch Tianwen-1 ('Quest for Heavenly Truth') in July. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover- a triad no other nation has accomplished on its first mission to Mars. 

If successful, the mission would mark dramatic progress for China's space program, and 'put China among elite company,' according to Mason Peck, an aerospace engineer at Cornell University. 

China has previously made several lunar landers. Its only other attempt to Mars however, an orbiter launched alongside a Russian mission to the Martian moon, Phobos, was unsuccessful. 

So far, only 10 of 18 lander and rover missions to Mars have landed. While nine of these successes were by NASA, one was by Russia; however, it lost communications almost immediately upon arrival. 

The CNSA chief mission architect, Zhang Rongqiao, said in a July 2019 lecture that their goal is not just to land, but also to 'explore and gather as much scientific data as possible.' Besides this, however, the CNSA has released few details of its mission to the press and has not yet announced which of two potential landing sites it prefers. 

Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Ariza State University, said, "I speculate [CNSA engineers] are looking to particularly demonstrate a safe landing."

Earlier reports say that Tianwen-1 should be able to reach Mars within 7 months of launch, although the orbiter will only be able to release the lander after several more months. The orbiter is then expected to relay communications to Earth for around 23 months, or one Martian year.

Later this year, China also plans to launch its Chang' e 5 mission to bring rocks back from the Moon- something that has not been done since the 1976 Soviet Union Luna mission. Should Tianwen-1's and Chang' e 5's missions go to plan, CNSA has suggested that it may attempt to return samples from Mars from around 2030. 


Sources: Science Mag, News 18

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
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