Credit: CCTV-Plus/Inside Outer Space screengrab


China Academy of Space Technology has built a testing ground to prepare for China’s first Mars mission. The ground was renovated from a site which was initially used to simulate the Moon’s surface for two Chinese lunar rovers.

Credit: CCTV-Plus/Inside Outer Space screengrab


The testing ground comes complete with sand and stones to simulate various scenes on Mars surface.

Rover modes

As explained in a CCTV-Plus video, staff members used silicon carbides on the Earth, and washed them with water to make sure they are clean enough.

Credit: CCTV-Plus/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“On this site, we mainly test all its working modes. We tested normal working mode and also its malfunction mode to see how it gets out of trouble when malfunction occurred. In fact, our testing ground served as an examination room before the final launch mission,” said Jia Yong, an expert of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Credit: CCTV

China’s Mars rover is very similar to the country’s lunar rovers, but larger in size.

“We must improve the autonomy of the rover. Besides, the environmental conditions of the Mars surface are probably more complicated than the Moon. A result we can directly perceive through the eyes is that the rover is moving sideways, just like a crab, a feat the lunar rover incapable of,” Teng Baoyi, deputy chief designer of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, in the CCTV-Plus interview.

Credit: CNSA

Difficult mission

In a related interview with CCTV, Liu Tongjie, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center under the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the Tianwen-1 mission – consisting of an orbiter, lander and a rover — is extremely difficult.

The spacecraft is expected to enter Mars orbit around February 2021. Afterwards, it will spend two to three months surveying potential landing sites by using a high-resolution camera to prepare for the landing in May.

In a post-launch press conference, Liu Tongjie, spotlighted the southern part of the Utopia Planitia as the Tianwen-1 landing zone.

The Tianwen-1 orbiter carries with it seven science instruments while the rover carries six.

When the probe arrives in February next year, “we will not let it land on the surface of the Mars immediately. First, we will let it carry out some preliminary explorations on the orbit of the Mars, making some trial operations and explorations. Then we will find a better window for it to make its landing into the atmosphere of the Mars,” said Liu.

Credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Northern hemisphere

The landing spot for the probe was carefully picked in accordance with the terrain of Mars.

“From what we’ve learned so far, the southern hemisphere of Mars is mountainous, while more plains are seen on the northern hemisphere. So we choose to make the landing on the latter. Right now we’ve picked the Utopia Planitia,” Liu said.

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Mars sample return

After the landing, the rover will be released to conduct scientific exploration with an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth), and the orbiter, with a design life of one Martian year (about 687 days on Earth), will relay communications for the rover while conducting its own scientific tasks.

As reported by the China Global Television Network (CGTN) China officials have suggested that if the Tianwen-1 and later this year the Chang’e-5 Moon sample return mission go well, China could attempt to return samples from Mars beginning around 2030.

Also go to this XinhuaVideo on what science tasks China’s Mars mission is to carry out, focused on what the surface of Mars is made of.

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