China’s National Space Administration just announced plans at a press conference in Beijing to send a rover to Mars on a mission that had been approved in January. This rover is to study the Red Planet’s atmospheric environment and search for water.
China’s military-civil run space program is spending billions of dollars playing catch-up with the United States, European Union and Soviet space programs. The U.S. has already landed two rovers on Mars and the European Space Agency has also had missions.
Xu Dazhe, director at China’s National Space Administration said at a news conference,
What we would like to do as orbit Mars, make a landing, and rove around for reconnaissance in one mission, which is quite challenging. This is a project that has attracted much attention from both the science and space fields.
This is not China’s first foray into space. Forty-six years ago they launched their first satellite. China launched their first manned space mission in 2003, a Chinese-built Shenzhou spacecraft. They have also staged a spacewalk and have launched an experimental space station. In 2013, they launched their first lunar rover, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), though it was beset by mechanical problems.
Plans are for future varied space missions. This June, plans are to launch components for a permanent space station, the Tiangong 2. A Shenzhou 2 spaceship with two astronauts is to dock with the station and live on it for several days. A manned landing on the moon is also in the future.
Chen Xuechuan, assistant president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. says,
In the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), we will see about 30 launches (of the Long March carrier rockets) series each year.
China may be considering construction of a pioneering radio telescope on the dark side of the moon, an unexplored lunar surface. It is home to the largest known impact crater in the solar system (2,500 km wide and 13 km deep). China’s Chang’e 4 lander will make a soft landing on the back side of the moon where it will carry out in-place and patrolling surveys.
Clive Neal, chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, affiliated with NASA, says,
There has been no surface exploration on the far side. (It is) very different to the near side because of the biggest hole in the solar system — The South Pole — Aitken basin which may have exposed mantle materials — and the thicker lunar crust.
Çhina’s goal is to become a global aerospace power by 2030. Their space agency has stated that they will be exploring civilian use of space technology in areas like navigation, remote sensing and communications. By 2025, they are planning a national civilian space infrastructure. They are also seeking international collaboration. Currently, the Unites States and China have little space cooperation but both governments held their first civil space talks in September to discuss plans and policies.
Xu Dazhe says,
When I saw the U.S. film, “the Martian,” which envisages China-U.S. cooperation on a Mars rescue mission under emergency circumstances, it shows that our U.S. counterparts very much hope to cooperate with us. However, it is very regrettable that, for reasons everyone is aware of, there are currently some impediments to cooperation.