China is planning to retrieve samples from Mars to Earth two years before NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), reports suggest.
This new 2-launch mission profile was unveiled in a recent event by the Chief designer of Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission, Sun Zezhou. According to the plan, it will a single Mars landing with a lift off scheduled in late 2028.
If all goes well, Earth would be receiving its first Martian samples by July 2031. Sun added later that the mission will be called Tianwen-3 and would be launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in two combinations, as reported by The SpaceNews.
In case of NASA, the agency had postponed the launch of its Mars Sample Return campaign to 2028. For ESA's Earth Return Orbiter, the take-off is planned in 2027 with the samples to be retrieved by 2033 as per a recently revised agenda.
According to Sun, the Chinese rover, which had started exploring Mars in May 2021, is expected to conduct sample return preparation soon.
In an effort to exert its dominance in planetary sciences and related fields, China has invested billions in its space programs. In the light of the same, the country has also revealed plans to build a base on the Moon with a lunar sample return test conducted two years ago.
This mission is believed to have been supported by relevant space officials and senior government executives as it was explicitly mentioned in China National Space Administration's plans for development across 2021-2025.
After this multi-launch mission, two more would follow, Tianwen-1 already launched in 2020 and Tianwen-2 scheduled for 2025 launch.
While the former was known as the first independent interplanetary mission of China, the latter is a near-Earth asteroid sampling mission that will also visit a main belt comet.