Curiosity may have less reason to be Mars’ most sarcastic occupant: China plans to land a rover on the planet in the next few years. It will be the country’s first foray to the Red Planet since a 2011 orbiter fizzled before completing its mission.
The expedition will send the rover around Mars and land it to further probe Mars’ dusty surface, the China National Space Administration announced during a news conference earlier this week. A report details the mission, which will flex space technology that we can use back on Earth, as well as navigation, remote sensing, and communications.
The agency is also open to international collaboration — a departure from its historically isolated, competitive efforts, including its lack of participation in the International Space Station. Last year a U.S. government-commissioned report revealed China is keen on building its space presence.
Satellite Yinghuo-1, which means “firefly,” was a Chinese orbiter destined for Mars back in 2011. When the spacecraft didn’t perform its scheduled burn, its voyage was abruptly cut short.
Among China’s galactic successes are its space laboratory Tiangong 1, a prototype that’s been used to experiment with docking and other capabilities crucial for manned and human-free missions. The aptly named Tiangong 2, a bigger, more permanent station, is scheduled to launch this summer. Its predecessor will then be de-orbited. A third station is planned for 2022.
Earlier this year, photos from China’s moon lander Chan’ge-3 and its sidekick rover Yutu were publicly released. Though their access was murky, the Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla sifted through the overwhelming data set and hosted Yutu’s best shots. China was the third country to make a lunar landing after the Soviet Union and the United States.
Credit for all images: Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla