May 26, 2022

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After the “Caesars on Mars”, China is vying with the United States for dominance in space; 2030 sets the deadline for a Mars mission

The race for space has quietly intensified in parallel with the geopolitical competition unfolding here on Earth. China, for example, has made great strides in its space programs and is looking to take the lead from Russia in challenging American hegemony.

Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, recently announced that China wants to collect samples from Mars by 2030 and will also consider ideas to explore the farthest reaches of the solar system, the Global Times reported.

The announcement comes two years after the Chinese lunar probe brought back samples from the moon.

However, Wu also admitted that a mission to retrieve Mars samples would be much more challenging than a moon mission, and the first problem to be addressed would be building a more powerful launch vehicle. Collected 3.81 pounds (1.73 kilograms) of lunar dust and rocks from Oceanus Procellarum on the near side of the Moon.

The Chang’e-5 mission marks the successful end of China’s three-step lunar exploration program, which began in 2004 with orbiting, landing, and return samples.

The samples brought by China gave way to some very important results. The success of the lunar probe mission may be the driving factor behind a probe similar to Mars returning samples from the Red Planet in about 8 years from now, a decade after the recovery of the moon samples.

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To Mars and beyond

In June 2021, China released a blueprint for future manned Mars exploration missions that was supposed to include three steps: a technology preparation stage, a manned mission to Mars, and a cargo fleet from Earth to Mars.

The flights are scheduled for 2033, 2035, 2037, 2041 and 2043, according to the state-owned China Academy of Vehicle Launch Technology (CALT).

Mars
File image: Mars soil – Wikipedia

Mars probe Tianwen-1, China’s first interplanetary exploration mission, was successfully launched into orbit on July 23, 2020. It achieved a remarkable feat by orbiting, landing and traversing the Red Planet at the same time.

Last month, Tianwen 1 celebrated it 1st Anniversary on the red planet. On February 10, 2021, the Tianwen 1 spacecraft entered orbit around Mars. The China National Space Administration released stunning footage of the event shortly after, showing the orbiter passing behind Mars while firing engines to slow down and enter orbit.

However, rotation was only one part of the target and a rover was to land on the surface of Mars. Teams on the ground planned to attempt a landing of the Zhurong rover for the next three months, with Tianwen 1 adjusting its orbit and sending detailed high-resolution images of the target landing site at Utopia Planitia.

Zhurong finally succumbed to her own fright, lasting a little longer by nine minutes in fright before landing on May 14. A week after landing, it proudly slid from its lander into the crimson dust of Mars, performing system checks and exploring the area.

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After Russia (USSR) and the United States, China became the third country to successfully land a probe on Mars.

Landing on Mars is one of the most difficult tasks in spaceflight. Because Mars, unlike the Moon, has an atmosphere, the landers must be protected from the heat generated during landing. However, the air is too thin for a parachute to slow down the landing gear on its own; retrorockets required.

Moreover, the whole procedure must be completed independently. Only 10 of the 18 missions to land or rover to Mars have been successful. Nine of the ten missions were led by NASA. A Russian probe landed successfully, but communications were lost almost immediately.

However, China’s success and its very smooth first landing encouraged it to press ahead with the research and bring in samples from the first-ever planetary exploration probe. She also plans to study the edge of the solar system and venture into deep space.

China has a long decade ahead as it plans to challenge the American hegemony in space that it has been able to maintain since the fall of the Soviet Union. China is preparing to operate its own space station this year and carry out a total of 50 space launches.

US Mars mission

The United States has been the most powerful player in space for a long time now, which has allowed it to consolidate its power. Firstly announce In 2008, its space agency, NASA, will launch a space probe into orbit high above Earth to study the far reaches of the solar system, where hot solar winds collide with frozen outer space.

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Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) is launched on a two-year mission to photograph and map the enigmatic boundaries of the Solar System, which is billions of kilometers (miles) from Earth.

Interstellar Boundary Explorer - Wikipedia
Interstellar Boundary Explorer – Wikipedia

The United States launched its own Mars mission two years ago. Mars 2020 is a rover mission to Mars and is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, which also includes the Persevere rover and the Ingenuity small robotic rotor.

Mars 2020 was launched from Earth on an Atlas V rocket on July 30, 2020, 11:50:01 UTC, and confirmation of a landing in Mars Jezero crater was obtained at 20:55 UTC on February 18, 2021.

picture
Perseverance, a Mars rover designed to explore Jezero crater on Mars, as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission (via Twitter)

Perseverance was launched to examine geological processes and history of the Martian surface, assess past habitability, the potential for past life on Mars, and the potential to preserve vital fingerprints in accessible geological materials.

Seven samples of Martian rocks have already been collected by the probe. It will capture and store several hundred samples of the Red Planet if all goes according to plan.

A joint mission campaign between NASA and the European Space Agency will bring these materials back to Earth, possibly as early as 2031.

This indicates that the missions of both China and the United States are scheduled to bring samples of Mars home along the same schedule. With several launches planned by both sides, including their respective lunar bases, much of the rivalry between the two superpowers is expected to take place in space.