#China unveils first picture of its Mars explorer https://t.co/FnSu04Uv0h pic.twitter.com/0coWStBZxVOctober 12, 2019
The first picture of China's new Mars explorer (opens in new tab) has been unveiled,setting the stage for an ambitious mission the country will launch to the Red Planet next year.
"The mission is going smoothly," the state-run China Global Television Network (CGTV) quoted Ye Jianpei (opens in new tab), chief scientist of Space Science and Deep-space Exploration with the Chinese Space Technology Academy, as saying. "If no surprise, the Mars explorer is going to be launched in 2020, and land before 2021.”
The image of an encapsulated spacecraft within its cocoon-like aeroshell was issued by the China Aerospace Technology Corporation. Earlier stories by Chinese space officials said the mission includes an orbiter, lander, and a rover.
Related: China On the Moon! A History of Chinese Lunar Missions in Pictures (opens in new tab)
Triple tasks, one mission
The mission is designed to examine the Red Planet's atmosphere, landscape, geological and magnetic characteristics, which could provide clues to the origin and evolution of Mars and the solar system, Ye said.
“Mars exploration is very innovative. If it proves to be a success, it will be the world’s first time a country completes the three tasks in one mission,” Ye added.
To reach Mars, the spacecraft will be sent into geosynchronous orbit via the heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket – a booster that is up for another flight to certify it is ready to carry payloads to the moon and Mars.
Following that phase, the Mars probe will have a seven-month flight to the Red Planet. In an August 2016 video, China's upcoming Mars mission was said to feature an orbiter, lander and a rover.
Multiple Mars launches
China’s Mars explorer will have company.
The favorable Mars opposition launch window in 2020 is the target for the European Space Agency's ExoMars rover mission (now facing parachute test issues); NASA's Mars 2020 mega-rover; as well as the UAE's Hope Mars orbiter.
Leonard David is author of the recently released book, "Moon Rush: The New Space Race (opens in new tab)" published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.