China to send helicopter to Mars

China is considering sending its own drone helicopter to Mars. The rotorcraft will be tasked with collecting samples of Martian soil, which will then be delivered to Earth.

Helicopter for collecting Martian soil

A few years ago, China announced its intention to launch a mission that would deliver a sample of the soil of the Red Planet to Earth. It received the designation Tianwen-3. Currently, the mission is in the active planning stage and engineers are continuing to make various changes to it. The last of them were announced at the International Conference of Deep Space Sciences held on April 22.

China’s Zhurong rover and the descent platform. Source: CNSA

The updated plan of the Tianwen-3 mission involves the launch of two heavy Long March 5 rockets to Mars. On one of them there will be a bundle of an orbital and a return module. The second will send a descent module with a take-off stage to the Red Planet.

After landing, the descent module will take a sample of the substance. A robotic arm will be used for this. As a safety net, Chinese engineers also plan to equip the descent module with a spider robot or a helicopter drone, which will be able to take a spare soil sample.

In total, Tianwen-3 will have to collect up to 500 grams of soil. The sample will be placed on board a 360-kilogram take-off module. It will take off from the Martian surface, after which it will dock with a bunch of orbital and return vehicles. Next, the sample will be loaded onto a return vehicle, which will then go to Earth.

Landing sites of the Chinese mission

According to a recent statement by the designers, the implementation of the Tianwen-3 will begin in 2028 — two years later than originally stated. Thus, the Chinese mission is likely to enter into a direct race with the American-European Mars Sample Return project. Its purpose is to deliver capsules with samples of the substance collected by the Perseverance rover to Earth.

The concept of the Mars Sample Return mission. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As for the landing site, Chinese experts plan to land the Tianwen-3 in the Northern Hemisphere of the planet. The landing site of the mission will be a site located at least 900 meters below the conditional sea level of Mars. This will provide the lander with a denser atmosphere and will reduce its landing speed. Another mandatory requirement is the age of the site. It should be at least 3.5 billion years old, which will make it possible to conduct all the necessary astrobiological studies.

According to

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