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China looks toward Mars as rover model debuts

Zhao Lei
Updated: Nov 18,2014 11:30 AM     China Daily

A full-scale model of a Chinese-made Mars rover is displayed at the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, on Nov 14.[Photo by Liu Huaiyu/China Daily]

China is planning for its Mars exploration mission with preliminary research already underway, a senior space official said.

“We are working to have the government include the Mars exploration project in the country’s space agenda,” Tian Yulong, secretary-general of the China National Space Administration, told China Daily on Nov 17.

“Meanwhile, we have started the preliminary research for the Mars mission.”

His remarks came less than a week after China made public a prototype model of its Mars rover at the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, which closed on Nov 16 in Zhuhai, Guangdong province.

The probe for China’s future Mars exploration project will comprise three devices-the orbiter, lander and rover-said Peng Tao, a space expert with the China Academy of Space Technology, the country’s leading developer of spacecraft.

“We plan to conduct the Mars mission around 2020, which will include the probe’s orbiting, landing and roaming,” he said. “By contrast, other nations will need multiple missions to achieve those three steps.”

Jia Yang, the academy researcher who led the development of China’s first lunar rover, the Yutu, told Xinhua News Agency that the Mars rover will have six wheels based on the current design. The Mars rover will be larger than the Yutu and better at crossing obstacles because Mars has many large rocks.

“We must improve its adaptability to the complex terrain,” he said.

China placed a rover on the moon that conducted a host of scientific tasks. Chinese scientists and engineers are now focusing on the third step of the nation’s lunar exploration program-landing on the moon and returning to Earth with extracted samples.

Though the government has not announced an official plan for a Mars mission, Chinese scientists said they are convinced that a Chinese rover will soon appear on Mars.

Li Zhongbao, deputy president of the China Academy of Space Technology, said the display of the Mars rover model indicates Chinese scientists’ confidence in fulfilling a Mars mission within a short time.

Since 1960, more than 40 probes have gone Mars, but only 19 have accomplished their tasks.

As of September, two US rovers were on the surface of Mars, beaming signals back to Earth-Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rover mission, and Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Both were sent by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In November, the Indian Space Research Organization launched its Mars Orbiter Mission. It successfully entered Mars orbit on Sept 24, making the Indian space organization the fourth to reach the planet, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency.

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