TECH

China Plans Mars Mission For 2020

18/11/2014 10:56 GMT | Updated 18/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Even as the European Space Agency lands on a comet, Japan lands on an asteroid and China goes to the Moon, most people assume that if and when humans do land on Mars, it will be with a NASA logo on their arm.

You might want to think again.

China has announced it plans to send a robotic rover to Mars within six years in the latest sign that it is catching up in the space race against its traditionally more advanced - but currently desperately underfunded - US competitor.

China says that while no official mission has been announced, it is already pretty far into the planning stages. A mission landing "around 2020" would have to be ready to launch by at least 2018.

china launch rocket

The Chang'e-3 rocket carrying the Jade Rabbit rover blasts off, December 2013

"We plan to conduct the Mars mission around 2020, which will include the probe's orbiting, landing and roaming," Peng Tao, a space expert with the China Academy of Space Technology, was quoted by China Daily as saying.

"By contrast, other nations will need multiple missions to achieve those three steps."

Toa made his statement a week after rover prototypes were debuted at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition. These rovers will be smaller and less ambitious than the Curiosity rover currently trundling around Mars on behalf of NASA but any successful mission - roughly half of all missions to the planet fail - will be a huge achievement.

Late in 2013 China launched and successfully landed its first robot on the Moon - though the Jade Rabbit rover was plagued by technical problems throughout its operation.