Experimental Chang'e 5 lunar sample return capsule has undergone thermal vacuum tests.  Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Experimental Chang’e 5 lunar sample return capsule has undergone thermal vacuum tests.
Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Space officials in China are detailing new plans to send a rover to Mars in 2020, followed a decade later by hauling back to Earth Martian samples.

The robotic Mars mission would consist of both an orbiter and a landing rover that will explore the planet jointly, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist with the Chang’e lunar mission and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Ouyang outlined the Mars initiative at a meeting in Beijing, reported June 25 by Shanghai Daily.

The main goals of the mission will be to check for Mars life, both today and in the past, and to assess the planet’s environment, Ouyang said.

Moon missions

China is reportedly making progress in readying a new Moon mission, the Chang’e-5, signaling the third-phase of that country’s multi-pronged lunar program – the ability to rocket back to Earth lunar samples.

To be flown in 2017, the Chang’e-5 mission includes robotic sampling and return control. Doing so requires breakthroughs in Moon takeoff technology, sampling encapsulation, rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, as well as high-speed Earth reentry.

Preparation for the 2017 launch of lunar probe Chang’e-5 is going as scheduled, said Ye Peijia, a top scientist with the Chang’e-3 lunar probe mission, as reported by China’s Xinhua news agency.
 

Drawing purportedly shows China's Chang'e-5 - a robotic Moon lander and sampling craft to be launched in 2017. Courtesy: China Space website posting

Drawing purportedly shows China’s Chang’e-5 – a robotic Moon lander and sampling craft to be launched in 2017.
Courtesy: China Space website posting

High-speed test

According to Hu Hao, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program’s third phase, plans are also underway to loft an experimental spacecraft this year.

The purpose of the test is to validate the lunar return sample capsule to be used in the Chang’e-5 mission. That hardware, Hu told China Daily, would be exposed to high heat loads as it plows through the Earth’s atmosphere, approaching speeds of 11.2 kilometers per second.

Earlier this year, China’s space exploration goals were outlined in a Xinhua article, in which Ye Peijia said: “We plan to send a manned mission to the Moon. The Earth is our cradle, and humanity will go out from here someday. The Moon is the nearest… if we cannot land on it, where else can we go?”

 

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