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China sets 2030 as date for Martian sample mission

By ZHAO LEI in Hefei | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-04-25 17:10


After the samples retrieved from the moon by Chang'e 5, Chinese planners have set their sights on another celestial body — Mars.

According to Wu Yanhua, chief designer of the country's deep-space exploration program, the plan is to return a sample of Martian soil to Earth around 2030.

The mission has already been named Tianwen 3, which will make it China's third interplanetary exploration mission.

The Tianwen 3 robotic probe will have four components — lander, ascender, orbiter and reentry module — and will be launched on two Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier flights from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, Wu told the First International Deep Space Exploration Conference (Tiandu Forum) on Tuesday in Hefei, Anhui province.

The lander and ascender will take an Earth-Mars transfer trajectory and carry out orbital correction maneuvers before entering Martian orbit, after which they will attempt an engine-assisted soft-landing.

Meanwhile, the orbiter and the reentry module will be placed in Martian orbit to relay signals and wait for the samples.

Once these are collected and packed into a vacuumed metal container, the ascender will rendezvous with the reentry module, where the samples will be transferred to the module for return to Earth.

The orbiter and reentry module will return to Earth orbit, where the reentry module will conduct a series of complicated maneuvers to return to a preset landing site.

If the plan goes smoothly, the samples could become the first to be returned to Earth from Mars, and will help scientists look for traces of life on the Red Planet, learn more about the planet's geology and inner structures and understand its atmospheric cycles and escape process, which will expand knowledge of the creation and evolution of Mars, Wu said.

China began its Mars program with the Tianwen 1 in July 2020. It was the country's first independent interplanetary exploration endeavor.

Tianwen 1's landing craft of touched down on Mars in May 2021 carrying Zhurong, a rover designed to carry out a series of science experiments.

Since then, Zhurong has traveled 1,921 meters. It is currently dormant.

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