China develops ‘GoMars’ Model for enhanced Mars mission planning
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 14, 2023
Chinese scientists have taken a significant leap in Mars exploration technology by developing a comprehensive numerical model, “GoMars,” to simulate Mars’ atmospheric environment. This advancement is particularly crucial for the upcoming Tianwen 3 mission, scheduled around 2028, aimed at returning Martian samples to Earth. The study detailing this model was recently published in the Chinese Science Bulletin.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has been actively involved in Mars exploration, evidenced by the Tianwen 1 mission launched on July 23, 2020. This mission, consisting of an orbiter, lander, and the Zhurong rover, marked China’s ambitious entry into Martian exploration, with the Zhurong rover commencing its surface operations on May 22, 2021.
GoMars, developed by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is a testament to the evolving sophistication in space exploration tools. It stands out for its capability to replicate the three critical cycles of Mars’ atmosphere – dust, water, and carbon dioxide. This modeling is pivotal, considering the Martian atmosphere’s complexity, dominated by carbon dioxide and known for its thinness and dust storms. The model’s accuracy was validated using observations from the Zhurong rover, NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 landers, and the Open-MARS reanalysis dataset, a comprehensive record of Martian weather.
The model’s success in accurately reproducing Martian surface pressure, as recorded by the Zhurong rover and the Viking landers, and its effectiveness in simulating surface temperature, zonal wind, polar ice, and dust, is a significant achievement. This precision in simulation underlines GoMars’s potential in aiding future Mars missions, particularly as Mars explorations grow in complexity and ambition.
The increasing demand for accurate Martian weather forecasts for successful mission planning is well-acknowledged. The GoMars model is a step forward in addressing this need. According to lead researcher Wang Bin, detailed information about Martian atmospheric conditions is essential for the Tianwen 3 mission’s landing, sampling, and returning tasks.
However, Mars exploration is fraught with challenges, as highlighted by the experiences of the Insight and Zhurong rovers, and the Perseverance rover from the United States. These missions faced difficulties due to Mars’ dusty weather, impacting communication, energy supply, and equipment functionality. In 2021, both the Insight and Zhurong rovers had to shut down temporarily due to a severe dust storm, and Perseverance’s wind sensor suffered damage.
Recognizing the significance of Martian atmospheric conditions, Wang emphasized, “The dust cycle on Mars is as important as the water cycle on Earth.” This statement reflects the crucial role atmospheric models like GoMars play in understanding and navigating the Martian environment.
GoMars offers more than just weather analysis; it functions as a “virtual Mars,” providing invaluable simulation data. Considering the scarcity of direct observational data from Mars, such simulation tools are essential for mission planning, including selecting landing areas and designing rovers capable of withstanding extreme Martian conditions. Wang explained, “For example, GoMars can simulate the temperatures of the landing zone, and scientists can use this data to design materials that are suitable for building Mars rovers to cope with extreme cold.”
The development of GoMars is a part of a broader effort since the 1960s by various countries to understand and model the Martian atmosphere. This endeavor is not just about advancing human knowledge but also about ensuring the success and safety of the intrepid machines we send to the Red Planet. As the Tianwen 3 mission approaches, tools like GoMars will be instrumental in enhancing the success rate of complex interplanetary missions and may pave the way for more ambitious endeavors, such as manned Mars landings and resource development on the planet.