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China reaches for Mars

China is on track to become the first country to explore the red planet’s orbit and surface in a single mission, its government has said.

China expects to launch a Mars probe by 2020 and to retrieve samples from the surface of the planet by 2030, Zhang Rongqiao, the Mars mission’s chief designer, told a Beijing space forum on 20 September. The mission is “going smoothly and all according to plan”, he said.

The Mars probe will consist of an orbiter, a lander and a 200-kilogram rover, Zhang said. The orbiter will collect data on the planet’s atmosphere and electromagnetic field, while the rover will collect surface data and test other equipment that could be suitable for future missions, he said.

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