|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||Aug 24, 2016 03:45 AM EDT|
(Photo : Xinhua) China's Mars 2020 orbiter.
(Photo : Xinhua) China's Mars 2020 lander and (below) the Mars rover.
China has revealed the first images of the orbiter, lander and rover that together comprise its 2020 Mars mission, which will be a precursor to an even more ambitious sample return mission in 2030.
In a curious twist of fate, the United States' next mission to Mars will also launch in 2020, as will a mission from the United Arab Emirates operated by Japan and, probably, the second European-Russian ExoMars mission.
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The U.S.' Mars 2020 mission that will land a more sophisticated robotic lander on the Red Planet will blast off in July. The Chinese have set their launch for summer but haven't given a specific month.
The launch of all four missions in 2020 takes advantage of an optimal launch window occuring every two years.
Besides making public images of its Mars hardware, China also released details of the scientific instruments on the mission.
The mission will be the payload of a Long March 5 rocket to be launched from the new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the island Hainan. It will take the Chinese mission some seven months to reach Mars in 2021.
The orbiter will carry a space particle detector; a spectrometer to look for methane in the Martian atmosphere and space-based radar. The presence of methane might indicate biological processes occurring on Mars. The lander will be equipped with ground-penetrating radar to image about 400 meters below the Martian surface and a radiation detector.
The lander with the six-wheeled rover on board will use gasbags, a huge parachute and reverse thrust engines to achieve a safe landing. Once safely on the Martian surface, the lander will drive off to begin its mission.
The mission's science goals include studying the Martian topography, soil, water ice, atmosphere and internal structure. It will also search for signs of life.
Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of the mission, said the mission will be complex and ambitious.
China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense has announced a public competition for a name and a logo for the historic mission.
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