China Confirms a Mars Rover Mission –Follows a 2018 Mission to Explore Far Side of the Moon





China plans to send a rover to Mars to explore the Red Planet, a top space official announced on Friday, in the latest step of its ambitious space program.Authorities approved the mission in January, said National Space Administration director Xu Dazhe at a press conference in Beijing.

The aim was to launch around 2020, he said, calling the timing "a challenge" that would be "a giant leap" for the country's space capabilities. "What we want to achieve is to orbit Mars, land, and deploy the rover in one mission, which will be quite difficult to achieve."

The Mars Mission will follow a 2018 mission to the far side of the Moon. Earlier reports from the Xinhua news agency hint that China may be considering the construction of a pioneering radio telescope on the moons virgin dark side.





China is pouring billions into its space program and working to catch up with the US and Europe, but has already been beaten to Mars by Asian neighbor India, which put a low-cost probe into orbit around the Red Planet in September 2014. Once on the Martian surface, Xu said, the Chinese rover could study the planet's soil, atmosphere, environment, and look for traces of water.

"Researching these matters is really researching humanity itself and the origins of life," he said, adding: "Only by completing this Mars probe mission can China say it has truly embarked on the exploration of deep space."

China has an ambitious, military-run, multi-billion-dollar space programme that Beijing sees as symbolising the country's progress and a marker of its rising global stature. China's recent space efforts have been focused on exploring the moon. The nation's first lunar rover — the Yutu, or Jade Rabbit — was launched in late 2013, but it has since been beset by mechanical troubles.

By 2018, the country aims to land its Chang'e-4 probe — named for the moon goddess in Chinese mythology — on the far side of the moon in what will be a first for humanity. The moon's far hemisphere is never directly visible from Earth and while it has been photographed, with the first images appearing in 1959, it has never been explored. "The Chang'e-4's lander and rover will make a soft landing on the back side of the moon, and will carry out in-place and patrolling surveys," according to the country's lunar exploration chief Liu Jizhong.


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Clive Neal, chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group affiliated with NASA, confirmed that the Chang'e-4 mission was unprecedented. "There has been no surface exploration of the far side," he told AFP. It is "very different to the near side because of the biggest hole in the solar system — the South Pole-Aitken basin, shown above, which may have exposed mantle materials — and the thicker lunar crust". The basin is the largest known impact crater in the solar system, nearly 2,500 kilometers wide and 13 kilometers deep.

But for the most part China has so far replicated activities that the US and Soviet Union pioneered decades ago.The U.S. has landed two rovers on Mars and the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have also sent missions to Mars.

China's first attempt to send a satellite into Mars orbit floundered in 2011 when the Russian rocket carrying the payload failed to make it out of the Earth's orbit.

The Daily Galaxy via AFP and Xinhua News Agency

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