Exploring worlds beyond our planet is a pretty hot item. Perhaps not since the space race of the 60s has there been so much international action when it comes to sending missions into space. The United States has the pedal to the metal in terms of getting humans back on the moon, with the hopes of eventually putting astronauts on the surface of Mars. The U.S. isn’t the only country that’s busy with mission-planning, though. China has plans to launch its own orbiter and rover to explore Mars, and they’re on track to accomplish that task by next year.
This particular mission is unique in that the craft that’s being built is a combination of a rover and orbiter.
For the orbiter portion of the craft’s missions, it will put to use a camera capable of sending incredibly high-resolution images back to Earth, as well as a spectrometer for studying minerals on the surface, a magnetometer, particle analyzers, and radar capable of scanning below the surface of Mars.
The rover that’s being designed is nearly twice the size of the current Yutu model that China has deployed to the surface of the moon. The Mars model will be solar-powered and equipped with a multispectral camera, instrumentation for analyzing Mars’ magnetic fields and climate, and ground-penetrating radar.
Tests were recently completed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation on the engine that will be used to provide the thrust needed to slow the craft down before touching down on the surface of Mars.
China has had a bit of practice with landing rovers. They sent up the Chang’e-3 and Change’e-4 and managed to land both on the moon. However, landing craft on the surface of Mars is going to be far more challenging. Most of those challenges are a result of Mars’ thin atmosphere. The thin air means that landing craft will be exposed to much more heat, while at the same time rendering parachutes virtually useless. The craft being designed for the Mars landing will still use a parachute, but it’s being designed to be supersonic and will be used in conjunction with a powered descent thanks to the engine thrust that was just tested.
We should see China launch the Mars rover/orbiter during a window in July or August 2020.