China Sets Mars Probe Launch Following Change’e-4’s Landing On Moon’s Far Side

China aims to become the third country to explore the surface of Mars, following the previous missions of the U.S. and Russia. Beijing’s space agency plans to send its first probe to the Red Planet in 2020.

Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, announced the plans ahead of the meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Gizmodo reported Tuesday. He said the country wants to continue its momentum in launching missions to explore deep space after the recent successful landing of the Chang’e-4 lander and rover on the far side of the Moon.

Chang’e-4 made the first-ever soft landing on the lunar far side on Jan. 2, a month after its launch from Earth in December. Due to the success of the mission, Weiren said China now aims to speed up its pace in launching new missions to space to keep up with other countries. 

“Over the past 60 years, we’ve made a lot achievements, but there is still a large distance from the world space powers,” he said. “We must speed up our pace.”

The scientist added Beijing will seek to become the next country to launch a Mars probe, which will orbit around the planet, land and probe it. The mission is expected to launch in 2020. 

But it would not be China’s first attempt to reach Mars. In 2011, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) failed in a project to send an orbiter called Yinghuo-1 to the Red Planet. 

The probe, aboard Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission, did not leave Earth’s orbit after launch as the spacecraft failed to perform a scheduled burn to begin its trajectory to Mars. CNSA re-entered the spacecraft to Earth's atmosphere in 2012, according to NASA

The new Chinese mission to Mars comes amid the growing efforts of NASA and the European Space Agency to build new spacecraft that would explore the Red Planet in the coming years. China’s space agency also aims to begin other deep-space explorations before 2030, with one spacecraft planned to visit Jupiter. 

CNSA will launch the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission later in 2019.