China plans to overtake NASA, ESA in Mars sample return mission with aggressive schedule


China aims to outrun NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) by recovering samples from Mars two years earlier. According to a report by Space NewsSun Zezhou, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission, outlined plans for the multi-launch mission scheduled to launch in 2028 and return with Mars samples in 2031, two years ahead of Western nations. .

China’s ambitious schedule is clashing with NASA and ESA who have a joint plan to launch their own mission and deliver the rock and dust samples to Earth early in the next decade. According to ESA’s schedule, it would launch the Earth Return Orbiter in 2027 to retrieve the samples collected by the Perseverance Rover in 2033.

Profile of China’s Mars mission

According to the mission profile presented by Zezhou at an event on Monday, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) will launch the mission named Tianwen-3 in two combinations. The presentation was made at a seminar to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Nanjing University, Space News reported. As for the Tianwen-3 suits, the first consists of a lander and an ascent vehicle which is planned to be launched using the Long March 5 rocket, and the second suit consists of an orbiter and a return module which would be launched on a Long March 3B rocket.

Zezhou revealed that China’s Mars spacecraft entry, descent and landing will deploy techniques used on the Tianwen-1 mission in 2021, while Martian soil and rock sampling will use technologies demonstrated during the 2021 Tianwen-1 mission. from China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sampling mission in 2020. Once the spacecraft lands on Mars in September 2029, a four-legged robot will collect the samples and transfer them to a two-stage ascent vehicle. This ascent vehicle will then lift off and dock with China’s standby orbiter in Mars orbit due to depart for Earth in October 2030 and arrive in July 2031.

Notably, CNSA’s plan is similar to NASA’s; however, the latter’s mission is considered less complex since the US space agency is also developing a rover and rocket for its Mars sample return campaign. The Chinese expert even said that the team of Tianwen-1, China’s first interplanetary mission, will perform an “aerobraking test” in Mars orbit to train in Tianwen-3.


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