In the race to bring Martian samples back to Earth, China will now have to be counted. It is indeed official, Sun Zezhou of the Chinese space agency recently presented the outline of the mission Tianwen-3.
The launch of this Chinese mission is scheduled for the end of 2028, for a return of the samples in July 2031. Two years before the return of the Martian samples as part of the joint NASA and ESA mission!
The announcement of the mission Tianwen-3 obviously demonstrates China’s ambition in the field of space exploration. Indeed, if all goes as planned, China will then become the first nation to bring samples from the Red Planet back to Earth. A very big step for the Asian giant in the field of space exploration.
A tackle to Western space agencies
As a reminder, NASA and ESA had originally planned the same deadline, namely 2031, for the return of Mars samples to Earth (MSR or Mars Sample Return). But budget issues and technical difficulties being what they are, the schedule was revised last March. As a result, the samples collected by the Perseverance rover should only show up in 2033.
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Coming back to the recently announced Tianwen-3 mission, Zezhou specifically talked about two suits, namely, a first suit with a lander and an ascent vehicle that will be carried by a Long March 5 rocket. The second suit will be quant it consists of an orbiter and a return module which will be carried by a Long March 3B rocket. Landing on Mars is scheduled for September 2029.
The collection of Martian samples (surface sampling, drilling and smart sampling) will thus be carried out via “potentially” a four-legged exploration robot. The samples obtained will then leave the red planet in a two-stage ascent module, to join another module located in orbit, before starting the return trip at the end of October 2029. And if all goes well, they should arrive on Earth in July 2031.