China is planning to launch a Mars probe in the year 2020 to carry out an independent exploration of the Red Planet after a joint mission with Russia failed in 2011, said Ye Peijian, a top space scientist and national political adviser.
The probe is expected to reach Mars in 2021 after a flight of seven to ten months, he said on Friday during the annual session of the national political advisory body in Beijing.
"Consensus has been reached among policymakers and leading scientists," he said.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the main contractor of China's space missions, said on Friday that the Mars exploration is among the 10 major orders that Long March 5, the country's next-generation heavy lift rocket, has received so far.
Other orders include the Chang'e-5 lunar probe mission that is expected to bring back soil from the moon around 2017, and the much-anticipated space station's core module that will be launched around 2020. The launch vehicle is slated to make a maiden flight later this year.
The size and structure of the Mars probe will be similar to Chang'e-3, China's first lunar lander that was launched in 2013, though there are many differences, he said.
At present, scientists have started making technological preparations for communications between the probe and Earth, possible landing and roving on the Mars, and how to deal with the planet's extreme environment, he said.
"There are many challenges in front of us ... but I think it is likely we will send the probe to Mars given our all-out efforts, the know-how we gained from past missions and everybody's support," he said.
China's previous effort to explore Mars in co-operation with Russia in 2011 failed after the Russian launch vehicle carrying Yinghuo-1, China's first Mars probe, crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
But Chinese scientists have not given up on the dream to explore deep space.
Scientists such as Ye have been promoting an independent exploration programme for the past few years.
So far, only the United States, the former Soviet Union, the European Space Agency and India have successfully carried out Mars exploration missions.
Ye, who is also the chief scientist of the Chang'e-3 programme, said that China has not yet approved the plan to send astronauts to the moon.
Xinhua contributed to this story.