China on Thursday completed a test of its Mars exploration lander ahead of Beijing’s first mission to the red planet slated for 2020.
Beijing is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022.
Thursday’s hovering and obstacle-avoidance test, which took place in northern Hebei province, was conducted in a facility that simulated conditions on Mars.
A red platform with steel cables attached mimicked the planet’s gravity - about a third that of Earth -- as the lander descended from a tall, metal structure.
The test is ‘an important part’ of China’s plans to land on Mars, said Zhang Kejian, director of the China National Space Administration.
‘Currently, all development work is going smoothly,’ he said in a statement.
China is pushing to catch up with the United States and become a space power, with ambitions of a manned lunar landing.
Earlier this year it made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, deploying a rover on the surface.
Experts said Thursday’s successful landing test was key in planning the future mission.
‘I’m pretty optimistic about China’s 2020 Mars exploration mission,’ said Jiao Weixin, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University.
‘Hovering and avoiding obstacles is very key to whether or not the probe can land safely,’ added Jiao.
If the landing fails, so does the entire expedition, he said.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Asia