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China may have its sights set on a mission to Venus

A "selfie" of Zhurong and its lander captured by a deployed remote camera.
A "selfie" of Zhurong and its lander captured by a deployed remote camera. (Image credit: CNSA/PEC)

China is considering adding a mission to Venus to its plans for planetary exploration, according to a senior Chinese space official.

The country launched its first interplanetary mission, Tianwen 1, to Mars in 2020; the mission's orbiter and Zhurong rover remain at work at the Red Planet. But the mission won't be alone as China plans to go further afield. Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China's lunar exploration program, told Chinese state media earlier this month that Tianwen 2, 3 and 4 missions are set to follow the Mars mission. (Tianwen means "questions about the heavens" and comes from an ancient Chinese poem.)

Though these were not named, China revealed in a recent space white paper that it plans to launch a mission that will sample an asteroid and visit a comet, a Mars sample-return mission and a probe to explore the Jupiter system. Wu added that China is also considering adding Venus to its targets for exploration in the interview, which was published March 7. 

Related: China's Mars orbiter snaps amazing selfies above Red Planet

Wu offered no further details of the potential mission.

Scientists in China did, however, propose a mission to Venus early in the last decade. The orbiter mission, which was not selected for further development work, would have focused on the planet's atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetosphere, as well as carry out surveys its the surface and internal structure, according to a 2014 paper.

The second planet from the sun became a hot topic following the September 2020 announcement of a detection of phosphine, a chemical associated with life processes on Earth, in the Venusian atmosphere.

Last year, NASA and the European Space Agency announced three missions to the hottest planet in the solar system. Now, China may be next to sign up for a trip in toward Earth's erstwhile twin.

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Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).