China Aims To Bring Mars Samples To Earth

China’s Mars sample return mission aims to collect samples from the Red Planet and deliver them to Earth in 2031, or two years ahead of a NASA and ESA joint mission.

The Announcement

Sun Zezhou, the chief designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission, presented a new mission profile for China’s Mars sample return during a June 20 presentation in which he outlined plans for a two-launch profile, lifting off in late 2028 and delivering samples to Earth in July 2031.

Difference Between China’s and NASA’s Missions

“China’s complex multi-launch mission will have a simpler architecture in comparison with the joint NASA-ESA project, with a single Mars landing and no rovers sampling different sites,” said Sun Zezhou.

NASA-ESA Mars Campaign

The NASA-ESA campaign will haul home samples collected by the American space agency’s Perseverance rover, which has been exploring the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater since February 2021. The project will employ a European-built “fetch” rover to grab the samples and place them aboard an American-made Mars ascent vehicle (MAV). The MAV will launch the sample container into Mars orbit, where it will be snagged by a European Earth return orbiter.

China’s Effort Is More Streamlined

China’s effort will be more streamlined, with dirt and rock collected from one small area via surface sampling, drilling, and mobile intelligent sampling, potentially using a four-legged robot.

China Has Already Delivered Samples From Moon To Earth

China already has experience in delivering samples from the moon. The nation’s Chang’e 5 mission touched down on the moon in December 2020 and shortly after delivered to Earth the first lunar samples since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 did so in 1976.

China’s Recent Mars Experience

China has also considerable Mars experience thanks to Tianwen 1, which launched in July 2020 and arrived at the Red Planet in February 2021. Tianwen 1 consists of an orbiter as well as a lander and a rover, called Zhurong; this latter duo touched down in May 2021.

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