China’s space agency has unveiled ambitious plans to bring Mars samples back to Earth.
China’s plans to go and return to Mars are estimated to be two years ahead of NASA and the European Space Agency.
The Chinese National Space Agency started its Tianwen space program in July 2020.
The Tianwen-1 mission deposited a spacecraft into Mars orbit and a rover landed on the Martian surface in May 2021.
Tianwen-2 will explore a nearby asteroid in 2025, but Tianwen-3 could be the agency’s crown jewel.
A presentation by a top Chinese space official said that Tianwen-3 will take off for Mars in 2028 and return with samples collected from the red planet in 2031.
If Tianwen-3 is successful, it would be the first instance of matter from another planet being recovered and brought back to Earth.
Plans for Tianwen-3 indicate that two separate rockets will make the 125 million-mile journey to the neighboring planet.
After the samples are collected on the ground, an ascension vehicle will lift off from Mars and reconnect with the return vehicle autonomously.
Space News reported that the Chinese government supports the mission.
NASA is working with the European Space Agency to develop a similar sample collection and return mission.
The Perseverance rover landed on Mars in 2021 and has since collected and stored samples in small tubes.
Either a new rover or Perseverance will deliver the samples to the Mars Ascent Vehicle, which would lift off from the Martian surface with the payload and connect to the return system in space.
In the early 2030s, samples of Martian dust, regolith and other matter will arrive on Earth for examination.
NASA said of the importance of the joint mission: “These first collected and returned samples may answer a key question: Has life ever existed on Mars? Only by bringing the samples back can we really answer the question.”
Although the Chinese have largely mapped their mission to Mars and vice versa, the West’s concept is still in its proposal stage.