HUAILAI: China on Thursday completed a test of its Mars exploration lander ahead of Beijing’s first mission to the red planet slated for 2020.

Beijing is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022.

Thursday’s hovering and obstacle-avoidance test, which took place in northern Hebei province, was conducted in a facility that simulated conditions on Mars.

The test is “an important part” of China’s plans to land on Mars, said Zhang Kejian, director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA). “Currently, all development work is going smoothly,” he said in a statement.

Experts said Thursday’s successful landing test was key in planning the future mission. “I’m pretty optimistic about China’s 2020 Mars exploration mission,” said Jiao Weixin, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University. “Hovering and avoiding obstacles is very key to whether or not the probe can land safely,” added Jiao.

China’s first Mars mission will focus on “orbiting and landing” on the planet, where a craft will “perform a patrol survey on the surface”, said Zhang Rongqiao, the mission’s chief designer, at Thursday’s test. “After the probe is launched, it will take seven months to reach Mars,” he added.

The final landing process will only last about seven minutes, but is “the most difficult and the most challenging part of the whole mission”.

China now spends more on its civil and military space programmes than Russia and Japan, and is second only to the US.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2019

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