In just over a decade, China plans to send its first crewed mission to Mars to start construction on a martian base, said Wang Xiaojun, head of the state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, at a recent space conference in Russia.
Speaking via a virtual link to outline plans at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2021), Wang’s speech, themed "The Space Transportation System of Human Mars Exploration" included details of a first crewed mission to Mars that will liftoff in 2033.
This will be preceded by a technology preparation phase, whereby androids will be sent ahead to explore the martian surface for a potential Mars base site. The robots are also expected to conduct a Mars sample return mission, reports Chinese state-owned media Global Times.
Regular follow-up flights in 2035, 2037, 2041 and 2043, among others, to help facilitate China’s long-term goal of building a permanently inhabited base on the Red Planet and extract its resources, are also scheduled, the academy said.
Large scale development of the Red Planet will be carried out by a Earth-Mars cargo fleet that will shuttle between the two planets.
To achieve a roundtrip to Mars with a flight time of “hundreds of days,” nuclear propellant in addition to traditional chemical propellants, is being considered as a prime option Wang said.
In another a bid to reduce the scale of martian transport missions, a "Sky Ladder”, delivery system made of carbon nanotubes, is also under study according to Wang.
Although the head of the country's top rocket manufacturing company did not elaborate on the Sky Ladder, Wang noted that it would be a starting point for future space voyages.
Such technology has been mentioned before by the Chinese state-run press site Xinhua, who released a video back in April to demonstrate cost effective new and innovative ways to bring people to and from the moon.
The design, which includes a space capsule for holding passengers or cargo that is propelled upwards into the sky along a carbon nanotube “ladder”, could supposedly cut down financial outlay to just four percent of the current cost claim China.
With a string of recent successes including the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission, the deployment of Zhurong to the martian surface, and the deployment of astronauts to its new space station, many see China’s latest ambitions as the beginning of a formidable space race with the US.
As along with Mars, China is also crafting an exploration mission to study the Jovian system set for launch sometime around 2030 and has revealed plans to build a lunar settlement with Russia.
Further details including schematics of the joint International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) were also unveiled at GLEX 2021 with officials stating that the base will be developed concurrently but separate to the Artemis lunar exploration programme led by the US.