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June 25, 2014

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China aims for rover on Mars by 2020

CHINA plans to land a rover vehicle on Mars in 2020 and bring back soil samples from the planet a decade later, a top scientist with the country’s lunar probe mission said yesterday.

The Mars probe will release both an orbiter and a landing rover, which will explore the planet jointly, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist with the Chang’e lunar mission and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The main goals of the mission will be to check for life, both current and previous, and to assess the planet’s environment, Ouyang said at a meeting in Beijing.

“The mission will also mark the beginning of China’s deeper voyages into outer space,” he said.

Chinese scientists will also begin probing the activities of the sun to determine its influence on the near-Earth space atmosphere, he said.

Ye Peijian, chief scientist with the Chang’e-3 program, said earlier this year that China already has the capability to explore Mars.

The tracking control and communications technology is in place to send a probe into orbit and then land it on the Red Planet, he said.

Ground stations have been improved and problems concerning control and communications have been resolved.

Much of the progress was made during the second phase of the lunar program, Ye said.

At its closest point, which happens every 26 months, Mars is about 60 million kilometers from Earth. The journey time for a probe is about 10 months.

A Russian probe carrying China’s first Mars satellite Yinghuo-1 failed to reach its intended orbit after its launch in 2011.

A problem occurred after the Phobos-Grunt probe separated from the Zenit-2SB launch vehicle but failed to use its own booster in order to reach the designated orbit.

Meanwhile, China is making preparations for the 2017 launch of its lunar probe Chang’e-5.

Part of the country’s third-phase lunar program, the probe is expected to bring back moon rock samples.

 Ye said that achieving this would be “a historic moment” for the country.


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