China unveils 2020 Mars mission probe and rover

Picture released on 23 August 2016 showing a mocked-up image of the proposed Mars probe Image copyright REuters/SASTIND

China has given the world a first glimpse of its design for the space probe and rover it plans to use in its first mission to Mars.

It intends to launch its mission in mid-2020.

As part of the announcement in Beijing, the authorities also launched a public competition to come up with a name and logo for the voyager.

China's ambitious space programme has been progressing at a rapid pace in recent years.

On 16 August it launched a potentially groundbreaking quantum-enabled satellite, testing communications technology, and in early August its Jade Rabbit lunar rover shut down after 31 months operating on the Moon.

Image copyright Reuters/SASTIND
Image caption The mission will look for ice and water, among other features
Image copyright Reuters/Sastind
Image caption Controlling a descent onto the Martian surface is particularly challenging with long communications delays to Earth

Computer-generated images released by the Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) depicted the six-wheeled rover that will explore the surface of Mars, along with the probe and lander that will get it there.

It is hoped that it will be able to send back data on the red planet's soil, atmosphere and other features, including any ice or water it finds.

Image copyright Xinhua
Image caption In June, China launched and successfully landed an experimental probe aboard a new generation rocket - another milestone in its ambitious space program

Despite considerable technical hurdles - which doomed a 2011 Chinese Mars probe travelling on a Russian spacecraft - Mars is increasingly become the focus of space exploration.

China was the third country to successfully land a rover on the Moon. To date, the US is the only country to successfully land a rover on Mars, but a joint European-Russian mission is already on its way. A previous British-led attempt ended in, possibly only partial, failure.

China would, however, be the fifth country or grouping to orbit Mars, behind the US, Russia/USSR, Europe and India.

It has also recently built the world's largest radio telescope and launched a new generation space rocket that it hopes will power future missions, including to Mars.

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