When thinking about space exploration, China is not the first contender that comes to mind.
Compared to the United States, China is behind on space exploration. Their first satellite was launched in the 1970s, while the United States and the Soviet Union already had several in orbit.
China’s first astronaut was not sent into space until 2003, and they have yet to put a man on the moon.
Amid the recent buzz about the red planet, led by books such as The Martian by Andy Weir and NASA’s recent announcement that there is water on Mars, it seems like China is aiming to innovate on the space front.
In 2013, China became the third country to have a rover on the moon, following in the footsteps of India and the United States.
The first phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program was a lunar orbiter satellite launched in 2007.
The satellite’s mission was to collect images of the moon and create a 3-D model of the terrain.
The program’s second phase aims to gather more information about the moon in studies led by rover-manned missions.
China’s first rover, Yutu, was still able to collect data and report it to the Chinese National Space Administration even though it lost its mobility its first day on the moon.
The third and final phase of the program will include sample missions that will be able to bring up to two kilograms of lunar samples back to Earth.
In an exposition in Shanghai, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation unveiled the model of a new probe.
The probe will most likely be China’s first ever successful mission to Mars. Named Yinghuo-2, it will likely be able to orbit, land, and act as a rover.
According to Ouyang Ziyuan, a leading scientist in China’s lunar exploration program, the rover will be sent in 2020, collect samples, and return to Earth by 2030.
Their maiden mission to reach Mars was done in collaboration with Russia, who allowed China to be involved in their mission to one of Mars’ moons, Phobos, as a “secondary payload.” This mission failed to leave Earth’s atmosphere in 2011.
China is not the only Asian power involved in space exploration.
India’s Mangalyaan mission satellite, sent two years ago, is currently orbiting around Mars.
This has caused much unrest within the Chinese scientific community.
“Generally speaking, we will have a more powerful rocket than India… I believe there’s no problem in sending a spacecraft to Mars,” Long Lehao, the chief designer of the carrier rocket series with the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said.