China announced the preliminary timeline for its ambitious mission to collect Martian rock samples and return them to Earth.

The mission is set to launch in 2028, two years after NASA’s mission, and will return around 2030. 

The news was announced by Zhang Rongqiao, the chief designer of the Tianwen-1, China’s Mars rover mission, Space News reports

The mission will consist of two spacecraft launched on Long March 3B and Long March 5 rockets. One will contain a lander, while the other will hold an orbiter and a return vehicle. 

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are currently collaborating on the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, which intends to retrieve the samples collected by the Perseverance rover

Details about the MSR are scarce, but it is expected to return to Earth by 2031. 

China’s mission, which is operating on roughly the same timeframe as the MSR, can be viewed as direct competition to the American and European proposal.

In 2020, China launched the Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which carried the Zhurong rover to Mars. The rover landed and performed its mission successfully, sending pictures and data to Earth. As a result, China National Space Administration (CNSA) became the second space agency to successfully soft-land a probe on Mars, and to operate a robotic vehicle on the Red Planet.

The intention to perform a sample return mission to Mars was announced alongside the success of Zhurong. However, the exact date and plan remained unclear at the time.