China plans to bring back samples from Mars around 2030

Photo taken on Oct. 30, 2020, shows models of the lander and rover of China’s first Mars probe Tianwen-1 exhibited at the 2020 Global Technology Transfer Fair held in east China’s Shanghai. (Photo by Long Wei/People’s Daily Online)

China plans to launch a mission around 2030 to bring back samples from Mars, according to a press conference held by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on June 12 in Beijing following the complete success of China’s first Mars exploration mission of orbiting, landing, and roving the red planet in one mission by Tianwen-1.


Besides, the country intends to launch a mission around 2025 to send a probe to fly around, land on, collect and return samples from a near-Earth asteroid and then orbit a main-belt comet for exploration. A Jovian system exploration mission and interplanetary exploration mission will also be launched in the near future, said officials from the CNSA.


The success of Tianwen-1 represents a symbolic achievement in the independent innovation and leapfrog development of China’s space exploration cause, and marks six firsts in the history of the country’s aerospace industry, said Xu Hongliang, spokesperson of the CNSA, at the press conference.


According to Xu, the Tianwen-1 probe symbolizes the first time China sent a probe into an Earth-Mars transfer orbit, the country’s first interplanetary flight, the first time China’s probe realized soft landing on a planet other than Earth, the first time China had a probe rove on the surface of an extraterrestrial planet for exploration, the first time China realized data measurement and control as well as communication over a distance of 400 million kilometers, and the first time China obtained first-hand scientific data from Mars.


Tianwen-1 not only left China’s footprints on Mars for the first time, but completed orbiting, landing and roving on the red planet in one mission, which fully demonstrated the wisdom of Chinese aerospace engineers and indicated that the country has come to the forefront of the world in planetary exploration, Xu said.


Featuring a high starting point, great difficulty, and a multitude of challenges, China’s first Mars exploration mission has faced many problems since the demonstration stage, such as new environment, long distance, long time delay and a huge number of links in the mission, Xu noted.


The probe’s descent from its parking orbit to the surface of Mars is the link with the highest risk in the Tianwen-1 mission, said Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 probe, who explained that during the link, the spacecraft not only had to deal with the unfamiliar and capricious atmospheric environment of the red planet, but needed to complete a dozen of key operations independently.


The CNSA also unveiled key plans of China’s aerospace industry during the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) and the next years at the press conference.


According to decisions and arrangements made for building China’s strength in aerospace, the country will advance comprehensive development of space technology, space science, and space application, in a bid to mainly enhance aerospace science and technology’s role in driving innovation and supporting economic and social development, and actively carry out more extensive international exchanges and cooperation, said the CNSA.


China’s planetary exploration missions will adhere to the basic principle of overall planning, step-by-step implementation, and continuous development, and give overall consideration to the development of engineering technologies and needs of research on hot-spot scientific problems, said Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China’s first Mars exploration mission.


The country will, with Mars exploration as the focus and main line, push forward with its planetary exploration missions along the path designed to realize orbiting, landing, and roving in step one, and complete collection and return of samples in step two by 2030, Zhang added.


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