Scientists are determined to carry out two of China’s most challenging space projects next year: its lunar mission Chang’e 5 (嫦娥五号) and its first exploration of Mars.
Related: Chinese space program
Ye Peijian, a space exploration researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology, recently said he and his colleagues are confident that they will start the initial phase of Chang’e 5 and Mars missions in 2020.
“We have improved the overall reliability of the Chang’e 5 mission since it was postponed and we continue to make plans for all possible contingencies to ensure that the program is successful,” he said.
Ye, 74, is one of the most established space researchers in China and was awarded the honorary national title of People’s Scientist. He has played important roles in several significant space projects, including Chang’e’s lunar exploration program.
The original plan for the Chang’e 5 mission was to launch it at the end of 2017. However, the failure of the second launch of the Long 5 launcher rocket, the largest and most powerful in the country and the one in charge of ferrying the Chang’e 5 probe, led to the delay of the lunar mission.
If the Chang’e 5 program is successful, it will make China the third nation to bring back to Earth lunar samples, after the United States and Russia.
China has launched four moon probes since 2007.
In December 2013, the third probe became the first Chinese spaceship to land on the lunar surface and released the first Chinese lunar rover.
The current Chang’e 4 mission, launched in December took its first close look at the far side of the moon – a region that never faces the Earth – reaching an objective sought by scientists for decades.
“We are also researching and planning Chang’e 6’s mission,” Ye said. “If Chang’e 5 is successful, we will send Chang’e 6 to the lunar south pole to collect samples and report them because it is scientifically important that scientists observe and investigate the south pole.
He said that the Mars exploration program is progressing well. It is expected that a probe will land on the Martian surface before July 2021.
“Although it was preceded by missions to other Mars countries, ours will produce better performance in terms of technological level and engineering ability,” said Ye. “We will use the probe to achieve three scientific goals: orbit around the red planet for a complete observation, land on Martian soil and use a rover to explore the landing site. If we succeed, this will become the first Mars expedition in the world to reach all three targets with a probe.
The China National Space Administration says that the country’s first Martian probe will conduct scientific investigations on Martian soil, the geological structure of the planet and its environment and will also look for the possible existence of water.
The probe will take about seven months to reach the red planet.