China has been striving to become a major player in space exploration, with ambitions of rivalling NASA and establishing itself as a superpower in space. In addition to expanding its Tiangong space station and proposing the creation of the International Lunar Research Station, China is now setting its sights on crewed missions to Mars. As part of its preparations for this ambitious endeavor, Chinese scientists have developed a new numerical model called GoPlanet-Mars (GoMars) to simulate the atmospheric environment of Mars. This model will provide critical research support for China’s upcoming Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, which is set to return samples of Martian soil and rock to Earth in 2031.
A recent study published in the Chinese Science Bulletin details the development of GoPlanet-Mars by researchers from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics Chinese Academy of Sciences. The model aims to replicate the three critical cycles of the Martian atmosphere: dust, water, and carbon dioxide. The scientists tested the model using the Open access to Mars Assimilated Remote Soundings dataset and observations from China’s Zhurong rover and NASA’s Viking landers. The results demonstrated the model’s ability to reproduce the unique characteristics of Mars’ surface pressure and its good simulation performance for surface temperature, zonal wind, polar ice, and dust. These capabilities are essential for ensuring the success of future missions, as dust and weather conditions can significantly impact entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phases, as well as surface operations and the ascent phase.
Accurate and detailed information about Mars’ atmospheric conditions is crucial for the success of crewed missions and the preservation of equipment. Sandstorms and the subsequent buildup of dust have caused the loss of several missions, including Opportunity, Insight, and Zhurong. The Perseverance rover also suffered damage to one of its wind sensors during a sandstorm. Given the limited observation data available for Mars, numerical models like GoMars play a vital role in mission planning and design. By incorporating observations and data from future missions, virtual reality simulations can provide insights into vehicle design and appropriate landing site selection, reducing guesswork and increasing the chances of mission success.
The exploration of Mars has been plagued by challenges commonly referred to as the “Mars Curse.” Since the 1960s, when the Soviet Union and the United States began sending probes to Mars, scientists have been striving to overcome these challenges by developing accurate atmospheric models. With the increasing number of nations venturing to Mars, the need for climate modeling has become even more critical. Dust and weather conditions can pose significant obstacles during various mission phases, potentially affecting EDL, surface operations, and sample return missions. The accurate simulation of these conditions is essential to analyze the possible causes of dormancy and design materials that can withstand extreme temperatures.
China’s development of the GoPlanet-Mars model marks another significant step in its pursuit of becoming a leading space power. With the Tianwen-3 mission set to expand upon the accomplishments of Tianwen-1, China aims to achieve crewed landing, sampling, and return capabilities. The launch of the Mars Sample Return mission by NASA and the ESA is also on the horizon, with plans to retrieve samples collected by the Perseverance rover. As the race for space extends beyond the Moon, reaching Mars has become the new frontier. The successful development and utilization of models like GoMars will undoubtedly contribute to the scientific understanding of Mars and pave the way for future interplanetary exploration.
China’s research and development of the GoPlanet-Mars numerical model represent a significant milestone in its quest for space exploration dominance. Accurate simulations of Mars’ atmospheric conditions are vital for ensuring the success and safety of crewed missions, as well as the preservation of equipment. By employing the GoMars model, scientists can analyze and understand the unique characteristics of Mars’ atmosphere, such as dust, water, and carbon dioxide cycles, to overcome challenges and design suitable materials and technologies. As the global interest in Mars exploration intensifies, the development of advanced atmospheric models like GoPlanet-Mars will continue to play a crucial role in shaping the future of interplanetary missions.