China’s Mars sample return mission aims to collect samples from the Red Planet and deliver them to Earth in 2031, or two years ahead of a NASA and ESA joint mission, said a media report.
According to Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission, China plans for a two-launch profile, lifting off in late 2028 and delivering samples to Earth in July 2031, SpaceNews reported.
China’s sample return mission was first revealed in a white paper released in January, which stated the country’s ambitious space exploration plans for the next five years.
The complex, multi-launch mission will have a simpler architecture in comparison with the joint NASA-ESA project, with a single Mars landing and no rovers sampling different sites, the report said.
The mission, named Tianwen-3, will consist of two combinations: a lander and ascent vehicle, and an orbiter and return module. The combinations will launch separately on Long March 5 and Long March 3B rockets respectively, the report said.
Landing on Mars would take place around September 2029. Sampling techniques will include surface sampling, drilling, and mobile intelligent sampling, potentially using a four-legged robot.
Zezhou added that the Tianwen-1 orbiter will conduct an aero-braking test in Mars orbit later this year as part of the sample return mission preparation, the report said.
Meanwhile, in March, NASA had announced plans to delay its Mars Sample Return campaign and split a lander mission into two separate spacecraft to reduce the overall risk of the programme.
Under the revised schedule, ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter is scheduled to launch in 2027, and the samples would return to Earth in 2033.