China planned unmanned Mars mission for 2020 and became undisputable leader in Asian space race.
Chinese scientists decided to unveil some details about their Mars program. Thanks to Xinhua news agency we know more about plans for increasing Chinese presence in Mars race. According to information which was given to public, China is going to send to Mars spacecraft and lander with rover inside on 2020. Spacecraft will reach Mars orbit on 2021, next it will deploy lander with wheeled rover. Probe will perform series of experiments and will be utilized for searching for life on Mars. It is not surprise, that experience from Change Moon missions is vital for developing lander and rover. Quoted Chinese scientist working for CAST (China Academy of Space Technology), Ye Peijian stated on 21 March 2016:
“We have less than five years till the launch, but we are confident. The probe is being developed by the team that completed the Chang’e-3 lunar probe,”
It was also unveiled that spacecraft will not be able to perform autonomous flight and during its 10 month Mars journey, it will be under control of ground station. After reaching Mars orbit, lander will separate from spacecraft and will enter the Mars atmosphere. It was not given to public how spacecraft will be designed or any details about lander. According to Xinhua, CAST mentioned that lander will be equipped in three systems for soft touchdown: reverse thrust engines, parachute and special gas bag for additional shock protection. In contrast to the spacecraft, Mars rover is planned as highly automatized and remaining independent from ground control center. It will be powered by solar arrays, will used six wheel chassis and in dimensions it will be similar to Opportunity rover. Prototype of Chinese vehicle was showed on Zhuhai Airshow in 2014 on CNSA (China National Space Administration) exposition. According to Jia Yang, deputy chief designers who worked on Change Moon probe:
“The Mars rover should be able to sense the environment, plan its route, conduct scientific exploration and detect faults autonomously. It should be a mobile intelligence,”
One of the problems which appear during Mars missions is problem with communication with lander remaining in distance of at least 40000000 km from Earth. Radio waves need at least 40 minutes to reach Earth (this is why rover should be able to deal with as many tough situations as possible for its own) and could be easily jammed or even not be received by control center if Earth will not be faced with correct side to Mars. To solve this problem, CAST planned to deploy from spacecraft additional data relay satellites. This solution was planned to be utilized during InSight mission (planned for 2016 and postponed to 2018) and in planned Chinese moon probe, Change-4 (read more here). CAST keeps silence as far as details are concerned but surely this mission, if succeed, will be confirmation of Chinese potential in area of developing and realization great space ventures independently.