After Tianwen-1 lands on Mars, a rover will be released to conduct scientific exploration with an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth). Credit:

When Mars mission Tianwen-1 lands on the “Red Planet” in February of 2021, its rover will have a new name.

Last week, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced the launch of a global naming campaign for the country’s Mars rover, Xinhua reported.

According to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the CNSA, the naming activity will be carried out in four stages, including name submission, top 10 proposed names selected by judges, top three names selected by public voting and the final selection.

From now until midnight on Aug. 12, participants can submit their proposed names through the Baidu mobile app, the official submission channel or to the office of the global naming campaign in a paper form, Xinhua reported.

The CNSA said the campaign is expected to promote the popularization of space knowledge and attract the public’s attention to the space industry.

China launched Mars mission Tianwen-1 (meaning Questions to Heaven) on Thursday, aiming to complete orbiting, landing and roving in one mission, and taking the first step in its planetary exploration of the solar system, Xinhua reported.

Tianwen-1 is expected to reach Mars around February 2021. After it enters Mars’ orbit, it will spend two to three months surveying potential landing sites using a high-resolution camera to prepare for the landing in May.

After landing, a rover will be released to conduct scientific exploration with an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth), and the orbiter, with a design life of one Martian year (about 687 days on Earth), will relay communications for the rover while conducting its own scientific detection.

Although China has achieved a series of successes in lunar exploration with four probes sent to the moon, Mars poses new difficulties for Chinese spacecraft designers, Xinhua reported.

One of the biggest differences between the moon and Mars is that the moon has no atmosphere, while Mars has a thin atmosphere.

Landing on the moon requires no aerodynamic shape or parachute. The engineers want to use the atmosphere of Mars to help slow the spacecraft, but have only a limited understanding of the unstable atmosphere, Xinhua reported.

The difference in gravity also calls for differences in the design of Mars and lunar rovers. The solar panels of Mars probe are unlike those of lunar probes due to the different light intensity.

The probe designers also worry about the sandstorms on Mars, and have tried to minimize the risk of damage by sand and dust.

The average Earth-Moon distance is about 380,000 km, while the distance to Mars is up to 400 million km, which is a major challenge for communication and control, Xinhua reported.

More than 40 Mars missions have been launched since the 1960s, but only about half have succeeded. The success rate for landing is even lower, and only the United States has succeeded in a soft landing on Mars. 

Meanwhile, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is set to be launched on Thursday, July 30, on a journey designed to search for astrobiological evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars, according to NASA.

The Mars probe is launched on a Long March-5 rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan Province. Credit: Xinhua.