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Space Race: China aims for Mars

China’s 2020 Huoxing-1 mission, the Chinese space agency is planning to launch an orbiter and a small rover to Mars in 2020

The Chinese Space Agency is preparing a mission to Mars in mid 2020, which is the most ambitious project in a long list of projects aimed at achieving equality with NASA and transforming the nation's technological knowledge.

The deployment of a remote sensing orbiter and a rover on Mars will be the culmination of President Xi Jinping's campaign to make China a superpower in space. China's lunar rovers and researchers are already exploring the moon and the country is making bold plans to operate an orbiting space station, build a lunar base and explore asteroids by 2030.

Next Mars Close Approach in 2020

The closest that Earth and Mars would approach each other would be when Mars is at its closest point to the sun and Earth is at its farthest. The minimum possible distance between the two planets is about 33.9 million miles (54.6 million kilometers). In 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years, at that point the distance between Earth and Mars was about 34.6 million miles (55.7 million kilometers) and it won't be that close again until the year 2287, according to NASA.

Mars close approach occurs approximately every 26 months. In October 2020 Mars will be 38.6 million miles (62.07 million kilometers) away from Earth. In that period, a record number of robots are scheduled to be launched by space agencies in the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. The private sector, particularly the Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit, also plan to reach Mars.

China's Huoxing-1 mission to deploy an orbiter and rover on Mars is planned to be launched in July or August 2020.

The objectives of China's 2020 Huoxing-1 mission

Above all, the probes will help scientists determine whether people can live elsewhere in the universe. Mars is considered to be the planet most similar to Earth, and these missions will help prepare for possible human exploration.

China's programme passed a significant test in December with the successful launch of its Long March-5 rocket, designed to launch a spacecraft into deep space. It was the first successful test of a rocket after a disappointing failure in 2017, when it failed six minutes after taking off from Hainan Island and then crashed.

China's ambitious 2020 Mars remote sensing orbiter and rover mission includes sending another probe to the Moon and taking first steps to build a space station, which, according to government media, should be completed by 2022.

Missions to Mars

A few countries have tried about 50 times to get to Mars, and more than half of these missions have failed. Only NASA has successfully landed and operated probes and all-terrain vehicles since Viking 1 in 1976. During this mission, dramatic images of the desert landscape of volcanoes and canyons were obtained, and a sample of Martian soil was taken for the first time.

The main objectives of robotic exploration of Mars is to collect and cache samples and prepare for future human missions.

NASA will launch its Mars 2020 rover in July or August and this mission is the first attempt to create oxygen from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The end result of space exploration, the landing of astronauts on Mars, requires a stable supply of oxygen. The first people can fly there in the 2030s, after NASA has established a sustainable presence on the Moon. Mars is a more complex destination than the moon, not only because it's farther away. The Martian atmosphere is mainly made up of carbon dioxide, with a small amount of oxygen.

China's space exploration objectives include returning samples from Mars in 2028 and exploring Jupiter a few years later, according to a strategy published by the State Council in 2016. Landing on Mars is also a very risky and complicated task. A spacecraft heading towards the planet at about 20,000 kilometers per hour should slow down and land in 10 minutes.

To influence public support for interplanetary travel, a Chinese company had built a Mars simulation base in the Gobi Desert. In November, the space agency completed an obstacle avoidance test near Beijing using a probe that separated from the spacecraft at 70 meters and then slowly descended to the surface.