China has recently outlined the nations plans to return samples from Mars back to Earth, and it believes it can do it much faster than NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
For context, NASA, partnered with the ESA, is planning on returning a selection of samples from the Red Planet that involves a complex method of landing a second spacecraft next to the Perseverance rover to hand off the samples. The second spacecraft, which is planned to launch in 2026 and arrive on Mars in 2028, will deploy a rover that will collect the samples from Perseverance and transport them to the Mars ascent vehicle, which is a small rocket that will launch from the surface of Mars.
The small rocket will then sync up with a third nearby spacecraft that will collect the samples and then transport them back to Earth sometime in 2033. Now, that is NASA and the ESA's plan on getting the first Mars samples back to Earth, and while it seems somewhat convoluted, it's the best plan the agencies could come up with given the timeframe.
Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission chief designer Sun Zezhou has revealed in a new mission profile that China is planning two launches to return Mars samples back to Earth. The first launch is planned for 2028 and will be much simpler than NASA/ESA's method as the plan is to collect samples from one site instead of many.
Notably, the Tianwen-3 spacecraft is expected to land on Mars in September, 2029, collect samples from an approximate landing site, pack them into the ascent vehicle and then deliver them back to Earth in July 2031 - two years before NASA and the ESA's estimated timeline.
If China can pull this plan off the nation will take first place for the first Mars samples ever returned back to Earth.
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