Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) paving the way for a human mission to the Moon.
Courtesy: James Head

China’s space exploration future includes paving the way for a human mission to the Moon, and carrying out an upcoming, aggressive robotic investigation of Mars.

James Head of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, recently provided an overview titled “Space Exploration in China: The Rise of the Chinese Space Science and Exploration Community.” It was delivered during a recent virtual meeting of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG).

The ultimate objective of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) is to pave the way for a human mission to the Moon. Such a mission may occur in the 2020s-2030s, Head noted. The country’s Moon exploration effort consists of three phases: orbiting the Moon; landing and roving; and returning samples, followed by preparation for human exploration.

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

Mars rover

Turning his attention to China’s emerging Mars exploration agenda, Head offered insight into the country’s launch next year of its Mars 2020 Mission, an Orbiter-Lander-Rover initiative.

Credit: CCTV/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Head reported that the China Mars 2020 Mission Payloads involve six rover instruments:


-Topography Camera

-Navigation camera

-Rover-based Martian Subsurface Penetrating Radar (RMSPR)

-Mars Surface Composition Detector Multispectral Camera

-Mars magnetic field detector

-Mars climate detector

China’s Mars rover.
Courtesy: James Head



As for the scientific mission of the Chinese Mars rover, it involves topography and geological structure detection of the rover exploration area; soil structure and water ice detection; surface elements, minerals and rock types detection; and atmosphere physical characteristics and surface environment detection.

China’s Mars orbiter.
Courtesy: James Head



Red planet orbiter

China’s Mars orbiter carries seven instruments:

-Mars Orbiter Scientific Investigation Radar (MOSIR)

-Medium-resolution Camera

-High-resolution Camera

-Mars mineral Spectrometer

-Mars Magnetometer

-Mars Ions and Neutral particle Analyzer

-Mars Energetic Particles Analyzer

As for the scientific mission of the planet-circling orbiter, Head explained it would study the Mars atmosphere, ionosphere and exploration of interplanetary environment; carry out Mars surface and underground water ice detection; study Mars soil type distribution and structure detection; assess Mars topographic and geomorphologic features and their variation detection; and investigate and analyze Mars surface composition.

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Landing regions

Regarding the selection of China’s robotic Mars landing site, two regions have been identified that represent a wide array of scientific sleuthing, including appraising possible habitats of life.

Lastly, Head pointed out that China has proposed a Mars simulation and training base that covers 95,000 square kilometers, situated in the Qaidam Basin, a Mars-like arid desert region on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.

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