Following the success of the Chang'e-4 moon mission, the world's first probe to land on the lunar far side, China is planning an even more ambitious project that extends its space exploration program to our planetary neighbor, Mars.
The nation has already scheduled four follow-up trips to the moon — which include two sample-return missions, Chang'e-5 and Chang'e-6, the Inquisitr recently reported. In addition, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is also aiming to land a spacecraft on the red planet as early as next year.
Known as the Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover, or HX-1, this is a sample-return mission as well, details Business Insider. The project involves sending a lander, a rover, and a satellite to Mars with the goal of collecting rock and soil samples from the surface of the red planet and eventually shipping them to Earth over the next decade.
If everything goes as planned, HX-1 could be the first interplanetary mission to bring back samples from Mars. The Chinese probe is expected to take off sometime in mid-2020 — or a few months after Chang'e-6 — and should touchdown on Martian ground in 2021, CNSA officials announced earlier this week. The precious samples gathered during the HX-1 mission are expected to be delivered to Earth by 2030."China's first Mars exploration mission will be implemented around 2020," CNSA deputy director Wu Yanhua told reporters during a press conference on January 14.
According to the "Global Exploration Roadmap" released by NASA last year, HX-1 is described as an "orbit, landing, and roving mission" tasked with investigating Mars' "topographical and geological features, physical fields and internal structure, atmosphere, ionosphere, climate and environment."
The concept design for China's Mars 2020 probe was first unveiled by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 2016. In early 2018, the spacecraft underwent a series of tests meant to assess the atmospheric entry, descent, and landing sequence in preparation for the 2020 Mars touchdown, GB Times reported in March.Come 2020, the HX-1 mission will embark on a seven-month journey to Mars and will eventually descend in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere, the CAS revealed in 2016.
The rover and lander will travel to the red planet on board an orbiter and later parachute down to the Martian surface as soon as their carrier pod slides into orbit around Mars. The rover would then separate from the lander — just like we've seen the Chang'e-4 Yutu-2 rover do in early January, as reported by the Inquisitr at the time — and begin trekking the Martian terrain.
The XH-1 Mars rover will carry 13 science instruments, "including a remote sensing camera and a ground penetrating radar," said CAS officials. This will enable the Chinese mission "to study the soil, environment, and atmosphere of Mars, as well as the planet's physical fields, the distribution of water and ice, and its inner structure."
Just like NASA's Mars 2020 mission, which also entails sending a rover to the red planet to gather samples, HX-1 will look for traces of microbial life on Mars as well. The two rovers are scheduled to launch around the same time, specifically in July or August of 2020. This is because during this launch window, the distance between Earth and Mars — and, therefore, the energy required to reach the red planet — will be near its minimum, explains Business Insider.
Other missions launching to Mars in 2020 are the ExoMars orbiter and rover, developed by the European and Russian space agencies, and the Emirates Mars Mission, known as Al-Amal or Hope (EMM Hope). While ExoMars is an astrobiology project focused on searching for evidence of life on Mars, EMM Hope is an orbiter designed to study the Martian atmosphere, as well as the first Arab mission to the red planet.