China showed off its Mars spacecraft during a landing test last week in the northern province of Hebei.
China is planning to send a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the red planet.
The United States and European space agency are also sending rovers to the planet in 2020, and the United Arab Emirates plans to launch an orbiter.
Zhang Kejian is head of the China National Space Administration. Before the landing test, he told foreign diplomats and the media that China’s Mars Mission is on schedule.
Officials say the Mars lander successfully passed a hovering-and-obstacle avoidance test. The landing area had small piles of rocks on the ground, similar to what the uneven surface on Mars is like. The lander will have to move around on this kind of surface when it gets to the planet.
“In 2016, China officially began the Mars exploration mission work,” Zhang said, “and currently all of the different development work is progressing smoothly.”
China has developed a powerful rocket, the Long March 5, to send the spacecraft to Mars in 2020.
Zhang Rongqiao is chief designer of the Mars mission. He said the trip to the plant will last about seven months. But landing on it will take only about seven minutes.
The landing will be the most difficult part of the space flight, he said.
Many spacecraft sent to Mars have been lost or destroyed over the years. Only the U.S. space agency NASA has been successful, with eight landings.
China’s space program plans to use a Long March 5 rocket to send a spacecraft to the Moon by the end of this year, or early next year. The Chang’e-5 spacecraft will bring back pieces of rock from the moon’s surface.
Last January a Chang’e-4 probe successfully touched down on the far side of the moon. While NASA sent humans to the moon, this was the first time for a probe to touch down on the lesser-known far side. The landing was a major success for China’s space program.
China first landed a spacecraft on the moon in 2013.
The U.S. government has barred most space cooperation with China out of security concerns. The ban has kept China from sending crews to the International Space Station, or ISS.
In 2003, China became the third nation to put a human in space with its own rocket. The former Soviet Union and the United States were the first. Since then, China has been racing to catch up with the two countries. It hopes to become a major space power by 2030.
China is also building a permanent space station, larger than the ISS. It has invited other countries to take part in the project. Chinese officials expect to complete work on the project around 2022. That is about the time when NASA is said to start building a new space station laboratory to orbit the moon. The U.S. plans to use the new laboratory as a stopping place for trips to other parts of the solar system.
I’m Anne Ball.
Anne Ball wrote this story, with information from Reuters and the Associated Press. The editor was George Grow.
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Words in This Story
rover – n. a vehicle for exploring the surface of the moon, a planet or other space object
orbiter – n. a space craft that is designed to orbit the moon or another planet, not land on it
on schedule – phrase on time; as expected or planned
hover – v. to float in the air without moving in any direction
obstacle – n. an object that you have to go around or over; something that blocks your path
pile – n. a collecting of things lying one on top of another
solar system – n. our sun and the planets that move around it