Beijing: China which had announced earlier in March about its plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020, now hopes that the comprehensive mission will start at a "higher level" than India - the only nation to have reached there in its first attempt.
Ye Peijian, an aerospace expert, said the preparation for the launch in 2020 is underway and the probe is expected to arrive on Mars in 2021.
"Although we are not the first Asian nation to send a probe to Mars, we want to start at a higher level," Ye, an academician at Chinese Academy of Sciences, said apparently referring to India's successful 'Mangalyaan' mission.
The 'Mangalyaan', or the Mars Orbiter Mission, entered the Mars orbit in September 2014, almost an year after its launch, and catapulted India into the exclusive club of nations to reach Mars. Only the Soviet space programme, NASA, and the European Space Agency have successfully reached there.
India is also the only Asian nation to reach Mars, and the world's first to do so in its maiden attempt. 'Mangalyaan' was one of the cheapest interplanetary missions ever.
Ye, however, said that China is confident of its mission.
"We have less than five years till the launch, but we are confident. The probe is being developed by the team that completed the Chang'e-3 lunar probe," he said.
The Chinese probe will include an orbiter, a lander and a rover. The orbiter will conduct global surveys of Mars, and the entry device will land a rover on the surface. Parachute and reverse thrust engine technologies will probably be used in the landing, Ye said.
According to a 3D video demonstration from China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the Mars probe will fly about 10 months before closing on the red planet. Controllers on Earth will guide it into a large elliptical orbit and the orbiter and lander will separate. The orbiter will stay in orbit for at least an year to photograph key areas and monitor the planet's environment, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Unlike the lunar lander of the Chang'e-3 probe, the Mars lander will carry a gasbag, a parachute and reverse thrust engines, which will together secure a safe landing, according to experts from CAST.
Zheng Yongchun, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatory, says combining orbiting exploration and a roving probe in one mission is a rational choice for starting Mars exploration at a higher level.
"The best and most direct method to look for evidence of life on Mars is to explore the surface. Mars will be a key focus of China's deep space exploration in the future," Zheng said.