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China to name first Mars exploration mission

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China to name first Mars exploration mission

Scientists working on Chinas first Mars rover
Photo: CASC

In celebration of China’s Space Day today, the Chinese National Space Administration will announce the name of its first Mars rover.

The explorer is planned to launch in late July and would arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. A 2020 launch would not only be significant for Chinese history—marking the 50th anniversary of China’s first satellite entering orbit in 1970—but also for the country’s leading position in astronautics. Only the US has successfully landed a rover on Mars.

The rover will contain advanced technology to detect subterranean water deposits and measure changes in climate and magnetic fields. If successful, the mission could provide China with valuable information about the planet.

Beijing’s uptick in space exploration can be viewed as an expansion of soft power, challenging Washington’s post-Cold War supremacy in the field. China has recently cooperated with Brazil and France in acquiring Earth-observation satellite data, which it uses to provide specialised climate and weather forecasting for disaster prevention to more than 20 countries in its Belt and Road Initiative.

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This trend signifies the increasing importance of access to satellite data for Beijing’s allies. As the country expands its astronautic presence in the coming years, expect China to explore the prospect of using access to information as a diplomatic tool.

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