China’s Mars Orbiter, Lander, Rover effort.
Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

China space officials have announced the month of this year’s launch for the country’s Mars orbiter/rover/lander: July.

According to China’s Xinhua news agency, this is the first time the country disclosed the launch month of its Mars exploration program.

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Mars probe mission will be sent to the Red Planet by the Long March-5 Y4 carrier rocket. That booster recently completed a 100-second test for its high thrust hydrogen-oxygen engine, which is the last engine examination before final assembly.

In an earlier China Global Television Network (CGTN) story, Ye Jianpei, chief scientist of Space Science and Deep-space Exploration with the Chinese Space Technology Academy, said: “The mission is going smoothly. If no surprise, the Mars explorer is going to be launched in 2020, and land before 2021.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Triple tasks, one mission

The mission is designed to examine the Red Planet’s atmosphere, landscape, geological and magnetic characteristics, which could provide clues to the origin and evolution of Mars and the solar system, Ye said.

“Mars exploration is very innovative. If it proves to be a success, it will be the world’s first time a country completes the three tasks in one mission,” Ye added.

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will collect and cache samples for later retrieval.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Multiple Mars launches

If all goes well, China’s Mars explorer will have company.

The favorable Mars opposition launch window in 2020 is the target for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars lander mission (now facing parachute test issues); NASA’s Mars 2020 mega-rover (near ready to be shipped to Florida); as well as the UAE’s Hope Mars orbiter.

Mars landing simulation facility, making use of a tower nearly 460 feet (140 meter) in height.
Credit: CGTN

Test facility

Late last year, China unveiled a simulated Mars landing facility, making use of a tower nearly 460 feet (140 meter) in height, a testing structure situated at Huailai County, Hebei Province, north China. The six pylon tower facility included a servo system and a Martian surface simulation area.

The experiment simulated the gravity of Mars, about one-third of the gravity on Earth, to test the design of the lander, according to China Central Television (CCTV).

Testing facility for China’s Mars lander.
Credit: CGTN

Ambassadors and diplomats from 19 countries including France, Italy and Brazil, as well as representatives from the European Union, the African Union and the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization were invited to watch the experiment, said CCTV.

China’s Mars rover.
Courtesy: James Head

Landing procedure

In an earlier Xinhua news agency story, Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China’s first Mars exploration mission, said in order to simulate the landing procedure under the gravitational acceleration of Mars demanded construction of the facility.

A red platform in the middle of the pylons is fixed by 36 steel cables. Through precise control, Xinhua reports, the platform is able to simulate the Martian gravitational environment.

On the ground underneath the pylon tower, engineers created slopes and craters to mimic the environment of the Martian surface.

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Touchdown regions

According to Xinhua, the test verified the procedures including the lander’s separation with the main body of the spacecraft from a height of 230 feet (70 meters), and then hovering at 67 meters above the surface, searching for a safe landing spot, and then descending to 20 meters above the surface in an obstacle-avoiding mode.

Regarding the selection of China’s robotic Mars landing site, a recent briefing from James Head of Brown University explained that two regions have been identified that represent a wide array of scientific sleuthing, including appraising possible habitats of life.

For a look China’s Mars exploration program, go to this embedded CGTN video at:

Also, go to this China National Space Administration (CNSA) video at:

Go to this video for a preview of China’s mission to Mars:



Leave a Reply