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China to bring soil and rock samples from Mars to Earth in 2031: Report

India Today logo India Today 23-06-2022 India Today Web Desk

After successfully orbiting, landing, and roving on Mars in its first attempt, China is eyeing yet another milestone -- bringing rocks, and soil samples from the Red Planet. The sample return mission could take place as early as 2031, nearly two years before Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) do it together.

In a presentation at a Nanjing University seminar, Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission hinted that Beijing is planning a two-launch mission that could lift off in 2028 and return with pristine alien world samples by 2031.

The multi-launch mission could have a simpler architecture in comparison with the joint Nasa-ESA project, with a single Mars landing and no rovers sampling different sites, Spacenews reported.

Dubbed Tianwen-3, the mission will comprise a lander and ascent vehicle, and an orbiter and return module. The two combinations will be launched separately on Long March 5 and Long March 3B rockets respectively. The mission will derive inspiration from two successful Chinese undertakings.

Also Read | Selfie from Mars captures Chinese probe orbiting Red Planet

While the entry, descent, and landing on Mars will be developed on the basis of the Tianwen-1 mission, the regolith sampling and collection will be taken from the 2020 Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission. After a 2028 liftoff, landing on Mars will take place a year later in 2029.

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The Tianwen-1 orbiter hovering around Mars. (Photo: CNSA)

According to reports, the ascent vehicle will have two stages and will have to be launched at a speed of 4.5 kilometers per second using either solid or liquid propulsion, where it will dock with the orbiter already circling Mars. The spacecraft will then leave Mars in late October 2030.

Sun, in his presentation, said that the Tianwen-1 orbiter already hovering around Mars will conduct an aerobraking test around Red Planet later this year as part of the sample return mission.

Also Read | How China dominated the space race in 2021

Launched in July 2020 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, the Tianwen-1 probe, named after an ancient Chinese poem, travelled a total of 475 million kilometers. The spacecraft entered Martian orbit on February 10, 2021, after conducting several trajectory manoeuvres.

While Tianwen-1 continued orbiting, the Chinese rover Zhurong travelled onto the Martian soil, becoming the sixth rover on the planet after five from Nasa. The Chinese rover is working in an impact crater named Utopia Planitia — selected mainly because it is flat and a relatively safe place to land.

With China successfully venturing into Mars, Beijing has plans to launch a sample-return mission to the asteroid Kamo'oalewa in 2024.

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