China working on an unprecedented mission to collect Red Planet rock samples

China working on an unprecedented mission to collect Red Planet rock samples
China working on an unprecedented mission to collect Red Planet rock samples

China is working on a 'complex mission' to take samples of rock and dust from Mars and bring them back to Earth by the end of this decade.  

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) mission will build on the success of its mission to return moon rocks to Earth, and the ongoing Tianwen-1 Mars rover mission, currently searching for signs of life on the Red Planet.

Named Tianwen-2, it could launch as early as 2028, according to Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of Tianwen-1, speaking at the Deep Space Forum in Shenzhen.

It would be like no other mission that has come before it, Rongqiao suggested, adding it would involve a pair of rocket launches to send a drill and a orbiter.

A joint NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) mission hopes to have Martian rocks on Earth by 2031, but China hopes to beat them to that goal, returning in 2030. 

China is working on a 'complex mission' to take samples of rock and dust from Mars and bring them back to Earth by the end of this decade

China is working on a 'complex mission' to take samples of rock and dust from Mars and bring them back to Earth by the end of this decade 

A joint NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) mission hopes to have Martian rocks on Earth by 2031, but now China hopes to beat them to that goal, returning in 2030

A joint NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) mission hopes to have Martian rocks on Earth by 2031, but now China hopes to beat them to that goal, returning in 2030 

MARS: THE BASICS

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, with a 'near-dead' dusty, cold, desert world with a very thin atmosphere. 

Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, polar ice caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes, and evidence that it was even more active in the past. 

It is one of the most explored planets in the solar system and the only planet humans have sent rovers to explore.

One day on Mars takes a little over 24 hours and a year is 687 Earth days.

Facts and Figures 

Orbital period: 687 days

Surface area: 144.8 million km²

Distance from Sun: 227.9 million km

Gravity: 3.721 m/s²

Radius: 3,389.5 km

Moons: Phobos, Deimos

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A Long March 3B rocket would be used to launch a lander and ascent vehicle to Mars, that will go down to the Red Planet, take samples, and launch from Mars to put them in orbit around the planet. 

A separate launch, of a Long March 5 rocket, would send the orbiter and reentry capsules, that would be used to pick up the samples and return them to Earth.

Both rockets are expected to be launched within the same launch window in 2028, reaching Mars at about the same time. 

Assuming the mission goes ahead as suggested, China could become the first nation to return samples of another planet to the Earth. 

While NASA rovers have been sent to Mars with miniature laboratories on board, bringing samples to Earth will allow for much more extensive analysis. 

Mars is increasingly becoming a battleground in the 'new space race' that is developing between China and the west.

If China does manage to get their samples back to Earth by 2030, NASA and ESA will only be a year behind.

The European and US mission will return samples already being collected on the Red Planet by the NASA Perseverance rover.

An ESA built 'Fetch' rover will be sent to Mars no earlier than 2026 to pick up tubes left on the Martian surface by Perseverance, and an ascent vehicle will put them in Mars orbit. 

An ESA-led orbiter will pick up the samples around Mars and bring them back to Earth no earlier than 2031. 

Like ESA and NASA building on Perseverance for their sample-return, the Chinese mission will build on capabilities developed for Tianwen-1 Zhurong rover and Chang'e-5 lunar sample-return mission.

China's ongoing Mars project was its first fully independent interplanetary mission, launching in July 2020 - sending a rover and satellite to the Red Planet.

With the mission they successfully demonstrated they could land a rover on another world, including the entry, descent and landing technologies involved.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) mission will build on the success of its mission to return moon rocks to Earth, and the ongoing Tianwen-1 Mars rover

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) mission will build on the success of its mission to return moon rocks to Earth, and the ongoing Tianwen-1 Mars rover

Named Tianwen-2, it could launch as early as 2028, according to Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of Tianwen-1, speaking at the Deep Space Forum in Shenzhen

Named Tianwen-2, it could launch as early as 2028, according to Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of Tianwen-1, speaking at the Deep Space Forum in Shenzhen

THE ZHURONG ROVER 

Part of mission: Tianwen-1

Manufacturer: China Academy of Space Technology 

Deployed from lander: May 22, 2021

Dimensions: 8'6'' x 9'10'' x 6'1'' 

Mass: 530 lbs 

Powered by: Solar panels

Tools: Cameras and scientific instruments, including to measure climate and the chemical composition of material found on Mars' surface 

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Coupled with the November 2020 Chang'e-5 mission, that returned moon rocks to Earth a few weeks later, China is flexing its space technology muscles. 

The missions proved China has the ability to find samples on another world, drill to collect them, launch from another body, rendezvous in orbit, and return to Earth. 

Zhang said in a press conference that there were

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