China unveils Mars lander during landing simulation test


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The new colonial movement: China today unveiled to the international press its first prototype Mars lander, showing it attempting a simulated controlled descent on a gigantic test stand.

The demonstration of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities was conducted at a site outside Beijing simulating conditions on the Red Planet, where the pull of gravity is about one-third that of Earth.

China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet in detail.

This is the first time I have heard anything about China sending a lander/rover to Mars in 2020. Previously the reports had discussed only sending an orbiter.

I have embedded video of the test below the fold. It shows the prototype hanging by many wires from the test stand, then dropping quickly, with its engine firing, before stopping suddenly, followed by an engine burst. While impressive, it did not strike me that China is even close to sending this spacecraft to Mars. The test only proved the spacecraft’s ability to do some maneuvering during descent. It did not show that it could land.

That the project’s designer said that landing would take “about seven minutes” also suggests that they are copying the techniques used by JPL to land Curiosity. Considering that JPL’s computers have been repeatedly hacked, including some hacks identified as coming from China, it would not surprise me if China has simply stolen those techniques.

I still expect them to launch an orbiter to Mars in 2020. Whether they also send a lander and rover remains to be seen.

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7 comments

  • Lee S

    Just a thought experiment, which I know would never happen due to the Chinese pride mentality….
    If the Chinese space agency asked NASA for help with designing a Mars lander, would they receive it? ( Given there were no military uses…)
    There is good cooperation between NASA, the ESA and the Russian space agency… It’s a shame that China can’t be bought into the fold, so to speak… Space is one of the few areas that transcends politics ( to a degree ).
    I am sure that all of us here… Left, right, and downright commie ;-) would all be pleased to see another rover on the red planet, regardless of origen.

  • Lee S: It is illegal for NASA or any U.S. company to do business with China or its government. Congress passed this law shortly after it was learned that U.S. technology had been stolen by them during the first satellite boom of the late 1990s, in conjunction with big payoffs passed to Bill Clinton to allow it to happen. (Do a web search for “Bernard L. Schwartz” for some information.)

  • Call Me Ishmael

    “It is illegal for NASA or any U.S. company …”

    I think you mean “any agency of the US government”. US companies do business with China and its government all the time (e.g. Google).

  • Call Me Ishamel: I should have been more specific. Companies can work with China, but space companies are under very strict restrictions if they want to do so, so much that it makes it practically impossible.

  • Edward

    Lee S asked: “If the Chinese space agency asked NASA for help with designing a Mars lander, would they receive it?

    From the article: “China’s burgeoning space program … has developed rapidly, especially since it conducted its first crewed mission in 2003, and has sought cooperation with space agencies from Europe and elsewhere. The U.S., however, has banned most space cooperation with China out of national security concerns, keeping China from participating in the International Space Station.

    China has long been seen as a bad actor. Robert mentioned hacked computers and stolen technology. In the 1990s, under Clinton, American commercial communication satellite companies were allowed to launch on Chinese rockets. These rockets were not very reliable, and one crashed with a Space Systems/Loral-built satellite as the payload ( Schwartz’s company). All three satellite manufacturers who launched on Chinese rockets got into trouble for seemingly innocent technology transfers (one company had only said to the Chinese: we think you should continue looking for the source of your problem), and an angry US government dramatically increased restrictions in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to prevent future transfers.

    These increased restrictions were so draconian that they treated even U.S. allies as hated enemies. As an example: a couple of decades ago, Canada tried to order a radar satellite from a U.S. company but never received a response from their application for permission for the proposed satellite to leave U.S. control and enter Canadian control. Canada went to another country to build the satellite.

    European companies had so much similar difficulties buying U.S. built components (e.g. onboard navigation and guidance electronics) that they decided to develop for themselves all the technology needed to make a satellite. A major problem with ITAR was that responses like this resulted in China getting the technology anyway, because European and other countries had few or no restrictions on what they could tell the Chinese space program. The U.S. lost its control over certain rocket and spacecraft technology.

    A few years after ITAR’s increased restrictions went into effect, the Chinese space program was confident enough in its rockets and space technology that it put its first taikonaut (astronaut) into orbit. I do not consider this a coincidence.

    How does the U.S. shoot itself in the foot? With a high powered ITAR.

    By the way, once communication satellites became considered as armaments, I started telling people that I worked for an international arms dealer.

  • pzatchok

    The company I work for makes electronic parts for ALL the aerospace companies and most if not all the NATO weapons companies.

    Add in the rocket companies like Space X just for fun.

    We also own( or are owned by) several Chinese manufacturing companies that make phones like the Iphone.

    Before the buyout we were an electronically isolated plant. No internet access at all except by one computer for file transfer and email.
    At corporate insistence we are now fully internet accessible.But we are safe and secure.

    The Chinese would never hack us from their fully internet accessible corporate systems to ours. Thye are our friends and partners.

  • Lee S

    All very interesting…. I did not know that the sharing of technology was so political!!!
    Thanks for the information guys!

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