The project will be China's first independent interplanetary mission and will attempt to put a probe in orbit around the Red Planet and place a lander and rover on the Martian surface at the same time.
A public call for suggestions for names and logos for the mission was hosted by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Chinese Lunar and Deep Space Exploration websites. The contest generated a large response, with the selected finalists drawing heavily on Chinese mythology.
"We have collected over 35,000 names and over 7,000 logos for the project. Their design covers a wide area, including the humanistic spirit, the exploration spirit, and the culture of the Chinese nation," Liu Jizhong, deputy chief commander of China's first Mars exploration project, told China Central Television (CCTV).
Mythical beasts and where to land them
The shortlists of eight names and eight logos were decided by a panel of scientists and engineers from China's lunar and deep space exploration projects, as well as artists, following preliminary assessments.
The eight names, many coming from Chinese mythology, are: Fenghuang (phoenix (凤凰)), Tianwen (study of heaven (天问)), Huoxing (Mars (火星)), Tenglong (flying dragon (腾龙)), Qilin (a mythical chimerical creature (麒麟)), Zhuque (a mythical bird(朱雀)), Zhuimeng ('chasing dreams' (追梦)) and Fengxiang (flying phoenix (凤翔)).
Above: Artist's impression of China's Mars 2020 spacecraft (Xinhua).
Many of the eight logos focus on the character '火', which means fire and forms part of the Chinese name for Mars, '火星', literally 'fire star', with the name due to the planet's colour.
Some also draw on the 'Starfleet-esque' logo for Chinese aerospace, with some entries combining this with the above character.
On Friday the lists will be available on Xinhuanet and QQ.com for public online voting, with the final result to be published around April 24, which will mark China's second 'Space Day'.
Above: Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captures a stunning view as the sun sank below the rim of the Gusev crater on Mars on May 19, 2005. (Photo: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell).
China's five tonne Mars spacecraft is due to launch on a Long March 5 rocket around August 2020, arriving at the Red Planet after seven months in deep space, and then separating to allow orbital insertion of the orbiter, and atmospheric entry of the rover and lander.
To be successful, China’s lander and rover components will need to enter the tenuous Mars atmosphere – around 0.6% of Earth's mean sea level pressure – travelling at kilometres per second and needing to slow down rapidly.
And to this end, China recently tested an experimental supersonic, low density parachute, launching it into the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere to substitute for Martian conditions.
China will employ two other techniques – retro-thrusters and a landing airbag – to ensure the payloads survive.
Helpfully, China has experience of landing on planetary bodies with the successful soft landing of the Chang’e-3 lander on the Moon in late 2013, which then deployed the Yutu (‘Jade Rabbit’) rover, and the same team are working to help overcome some of the Martian challenges.
The science goals include studying the Martian topography, soil, environment, atmosphere and water ice, as well as the planet's internal structure and search for possible signs of life.
Dr Wu Ji, director of the National Space Science Centre in Beijing which develops space science payloads, revealed to gbtimes last February that the orbiter will have on board space particle detectors and cameras capable of detecting methane – the presence of which may indicate biological processes occurring on Mars.
The rover will carry a ground penetrating radar that could reveal a much about the past and present of Mars.
Above: Artist impression of China's 2020 Mars rover.
The same instrument allowed China’s Yutu rover to image around 400m below the lunar surface, making intriguing discoveries about the composition and history of the Moon, such as evidence of volcanic floods.
While China's 2020 mission is ambitious in its own right, it will also serve as a demonstration of technology needed for an unprecedented Mars sample return mission around 2030.
Around December China will attempt the first lunar sample return mission in over four decades with Chang'e-5, which would also test technologies and techniques needed for a similar project for Mars.
A successful Mars sample return mission, which is also under development and consideration by NASA, has the potential to profoundly affect human history, should it reveal evidence of past or present.
China unveils top names for Mars spacecraft
China has released a short list of eight names for the country's first Mars spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch by 2020.
The eight names-- "Fenghuang" (phoenix), "Tianwen" (questions for heaven), "Huoxing" (Mars), "Tenglong" (soaring dragon), "Qilin" (Kylin), "Zhuque" (rose finch), "Zhuimeng" (chasing dreams) and "Fengxiang" (flying phoenix), were the top names chosen from over 14,500 choices submitted through more than 35,900 proposals entered by people worldwide.
China plans to launch its first Mars spacecraft by 2020, which will orbit, land and explore the Red Planet.
Proposals were accepted from August last year.
The eight names were selected via a jury review and online polls.
The final choice will be announced around Space Day, April 24, according to a moon probe and space program center under the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, which solicited the proposals.