The space race may just be gearing up again, as China has just previewed the first images of its future Mars rover, announcing plans to send it to the Red Planet for a three-month expedition in 2020, according to Reuters.
“The challenges we face are unprecedented,” Zhang Rongqiao, he chief architect of the Mars mission, said, according to Xinhua, China’s official press agency.
The rover is set to be around 440 pounds (200 kg), which will be hauled around on six wheels using the energy generated from four solar panels. It will also carry a wide array of instruments—13 payloads that will include a remote sensing camera and ground penetrating radar (GPR).
“The lander will separate from the orbiter at the end of a journey of around seven months and touch down in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere of Mars where the rover will explore the surface,” wrote Xinhua in their report.
The northern hemisphere is a calculated choice—while it is less useful for harvesting solar power, its geography is smoother.
The anticipated launch is around July or August of 2020.
President Xi Jinping of China has called for the country to establish itself as a space power, and they’ve certainly been making great strides towards that end. In 2003, China became the third country in history to send a man into space with its own rocket (following the former USSR and the U.S.).
In late 2013, China then sent its Chang’e-3 spacecraft and its Jade Rabbit rover to the moon—the first soft landing there since 1976. A manned landing is already slated for 2036.
Beijing has also already tested several anti-satellite missiles.
While China insists this is all being done for peaceful reasons, the U.S. Department of Defense isn’t so convinced. Already, they are looking into ways to prevent potential foes from using space-based assets in an emergency. In a similar vein, Congress has banned NASA from working with the China National Space Administration out of security concerns.
Image credit: Sastind