All Systems Go
China's 2020 Mars mission is progressing nicely, according to reports from local Chinese media. The news comes as the world awaits Elon Musk's updates on SpaceX's own plans for Mars, as well as the updates various other organizations are expected to deliver at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Australia next week.
"The Mars exploration program is well underway," Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of China's Mars mission, said on Wednesday while speaking at the Beijing International Forum on Lunar and Deep-Space Exploration, according to state news agency Xinhua.
China plans to send an unmanned probe comprising three parts — an orbiter, a lander, and a rover — to Mars by 2020. The probe will carry 13 payloads, seven of which will be on the orbiter and the remaining six on the rover. "The payloads will be used to collect data on the environment, morphology, surface structure, and atmosphere of Mars," explained Zhang.
— China News 中国新闻网 (@Echinanews) September 20, 2017
After a seven-month journey to the Red Planet, the orbiter will launch the lander towards Mars' northern hemisphere, where it will explore the surface. Its tasks will include testing equipment for sample retrieval missions, which are scheduled between 2025 and 2030.
"Chinese scientists are doing preliminary research now to anticipate the data that will be collected from Mars, so we can publish our reports faster," Zhang said, as reported by China News.
China's mission to Mars is part of their space agency's goal of becoming a frontrunner in space exploration by 2030. Aside from Mars, they also plan on sending unmanned probes to Jupiter in 2036 and to Uranus in 2046.
Mars. So Hot Right Now.
Seemingly everyone wants to go Mars right now — it's currently the hottest item in space exploration.
Despite their latest attempt to put a lander on the Red Planet ending abruptly, the European Space Agency (ESA) has future Mars plans. The United Arab Emirates also wants in and has announced plans to send a mission to Mars by 2021. Meanwhile, Japan wants to get to the moons of Mars by 2024.
This interest is understandable, as most experts see Mars as a potential jumping off point in humanity's attempts to colonize space, but actually bringing these plans to fruition will be no easy task.
While today's advances in rocket technology will certainly help, colonizing Mars won't be as simple as sending unmanned missions and probes and rovers to the Red Planet. We need to send people, and doing that may well end up being a collective endeavor. It's not difficult to imagine SpaceX and NASA teaming up, although both have their own plans for getting to Mars. Russia supposedly has plans to work with the U.S. on a joint Mars project, too.