China plans to land rover on Mars by 2020
Work is proceeding quickly on China's planned mission to land a rover on Mars by 2020, the chief administrator of the ambitious space programme said.
China's Mars voyage will attempt to recreate the success of the US Viking 1 mission that landed a rover on the planet four decades ago.
"What we would like to do is to orbit Mars, make a landing, and rove around for reconnaissance in one mission, which is quite a challenge," China National Space Administration head Xu Dazhe said at a rare news conference.
"This is a project that has attracted much attention from both the science and space fields."
Mr Xu said Beijing will explore civilian uses of space technology in areas such as navigation, remote sensing and communications, and will seek international collaborations.
Since conducting its first crewed mission on a Chinese-built Shenzhou spacecraft in 2003, China has launched an experimental space station called the Tiangong 1, staged a spacewalk and landed its Yutu rover on the Moon.
This year, it plans to launch components for a larger, permanent Tiangong 2 space station some time after the beginning of June, as well as the Shenzhou 11 spaceship with two astronauts on board who are scheduled to dock with the station and live in it for several days.
Administrators suggest a manned landing on the Moon may also be in the programme's future.
A source of enormous national pride, Beijing's military-backed space programme plans 20 space missions this year at a time when the US and other countries' programmes are seeking new roles.
China is also developing the Long March 5 heavier-lift rocket needed to launch the Tiangong 2 and other massive payloads.